'Malice at the Palace': How 'Untold' Reexamines Pacers-Pistons Brawl From Players' POV
10th August 2021

Netflix film features 17 different angles of security footage from one of the NBA’s worst nights

Netflix

Maclain and Chapman Way, the creators behind Netflix’s sports docuseries “Untold,” hope you don’t remember much about the Malice at the Palace. In fact, they’re betting you don’t.

“It’s been almost a little reduced to a six-minute YouTube video,” Maclain Way tells TheWrap. “Once a year, it pops up and gets like millions and millions of hits.”

The Malice at the Palace is one of the most infamous events in the NBA’s history. A quick refresher: In November 2004, a game between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers, two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference (the Pistons were coming off a title the previous year), was called off before it could finish after Pacers forward Ron Artest went into the stands to fight with a fan after he was hit with a cup filled with beer. The ensuing melee ended with multiple arrests, fans put in the hospital, other fans coming onto the court to try and fight some the Pacers’ players and some of the harshest penalties ever levied in terms of suspensions. The game took place at the Pistons’ home arena, The Palace of Auburn Hills, thus giving the event its name.

It ended with Artest getting suspended for the rest of the season, which totaled 86 games including the playoffs. In total, the NBA suspended nine players for 146 games, the largest penalties handed out in NBA history.

Despite being one of the most infamous events in sports history, the Way brothers were able to unearth never-before-seen footage from the arena, which was demolished a few years ago.

“We were given access to all the raw footage of like, 17 different camera angles, every camera inside the mouth, those inside the Palace that night. Seeing the high resolution stuff, seeing the raw, uncut stuff that was never released to the public was incredibly eye-opening and very, very immersive and intense,” Chapman Way says. “When we got that footage, we knew right away, we got to do something on the story and dive in and then talking really with [Pacers players] Stephen Jackson, Metta Standiford-Artest (known as Ron Artest back then) and Jermain O’Neal. You get a sense very quickly early on, just like how much baggage they still carry from this night 15 years ago.”

The hourlong film, which debuted Tuesday, largely tells the story from those three players’ perspective, who were all branded as “thugs” by the media and led to calls for former NBA commissioner David Stern to “clean up” the league’s image.

“I was unaware of just how intense all of the emotions and trauma and pain and regret that still lingers with them,” Chapman Way adds.

The series, which also includes films centered on Caitlyn Jenner and the defunct minor league hockey team Danbury Trashers, counts The Players Tribune, a sports blogging site, as an executive producer. The film, while not exonerating the three Pacers, goes to great lengths to paint them in a more sympathetic light (and given some of the behavior of the fans at the arena that night — one of them ripped out a seat and hurled it at the players — it’s not totally out of bounds).

TheWrap asked the Ways if there were worried that having The Players Tribune on board created any potential bias in the way the story was told. ESPN’s celebrated Michael Jordan docuseries “The Last Dance” was criticized for not being completely fair to the other members of the Chicago Bulls because Jordan had final cut.

“At the end of the day, we retain full creative cut. We don’t have to share our cuts or have any creative feedback from any of the athletes. And really when we found these five stories, the main criteria for us in choosing these stories and working with these athletes was like, you have a warts and all thing,” Chapman Way said. “It’s the good, the bad and the ugly. We’re not interested in collaborating with athletes that have a specific agenda or just want to make themselves look good. We’re looking for athletes that it is important for them to be really raw and vulnerable and authentic. At the end of the day, it’s our creative decisions.”

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