COMMENTARY | On the evening of November 19, 2004, there was a basketball game that was played in Auburn Hills, Mich.
That game was never finished, called with 45.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Indiana Pacers leading the Detroit Pistons 97-82. Pistons center Ben Wallace went to the rim and was fouled hard by Pacers forward formerly known as Ron Artest. Wallace didn't like the nature of the foul and instigated a fight with Artest and the Pacers' bench -- and the rest is history.
Nine years to the date, we look back at a dark day, if not the darkest, in Indiana Pacers franchise history and how it has shaped the way the team operates to date.
Following the in-the-stands chaos in Detroit, or the "Malice in the Palace" as it became known, the Pacers were never the same. A team that some would say was the best Indiana had in a very long time with a legitimate championship contention was now in disarray.
Ron Artest was suspended for the entire remainder of the NBA season, which ended up being 73 regular-season games and 13 playoff games (86 in total.) Pacers forward Stephen Jackson was suspended for 30 games, and Jermaine O'Neal for 15. Ben Wallace, the instigator and reason the brawl ever began, only received six games.
Indiana, considered by most to be the Eastern Conference favorite that year, ended up finishing third in its own division with a 44-38 record, behind both Cleveland and Detroit. Though all the players suspended returned that following season, the Indiana Pacers were never the same, and, by 2007, all but O'Neal had been released from the roster.
Now, nine years later, what are the Pacers doing differently?
While no one other than team president Larry Bird could officially say, it seems that the Indiana Pacers are taking personal character and off-court behavior more seriously in pre-draft and free-agency evaluations. The 2013 roster that the front office has assembled seems to reflect these changes. Paul George, Roy Hibbert, and essentially everyone active exhibits nothing but complete class.
The one question mark coming into the past few seasons has been Lance Stephenson, as his character heading into the 2010 NBA draft was questioned. And throughout the years, Stephenson has showed his hand in boneheaded issues both on and off the court. That being said, Stephenson has showed incredible growth in his maturity as both a person and player over the last two seasons, making him one of Indiana's more valuable assets.
The team has made the complete transition from the dark and now has players that fans and this city can be proud of. And, slowly but surely, the fan base is coming back. Ranked 25th in attendance last season despite putting together a deep playoff push, Indiana has moved up slightly through five games, improving its attendance percentage by 3.3% thus far on the young season.
And the longer this team continues to do what it is doing, you can expect that number to continually rise. Finally, Pacers fans can exhale. The black-eye received in Auburn Hills has finally faded. It can be put in the past, not to be thought about again when referencing the Pacers.
Finally, the day we've been waiting on for nine long years now -- the Pacers are back.
Joe Tacosik is a Indiana Pacers Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and Yahoo Sports contributor. You can read Joe's writings here, on BleacherReport.com and his freelance writing at JoeTacosik.com
You can also follow Joe on Twitter (@JoeBobTaco) for anything and everything Indianapolis sports related.
- Sports & Recreation
- Indiana Pacers
- Ron Artest
- Ben Wallace
- Detroit Pistons