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The DadBall Era: True Inevitabilities

The Malice at the Palace happened 15 years ago this week. In sports, there are often predictable outcomes, and it seems that event was one of them.

In 2003, a friend in the Pacers’ ticket office got a few of us seats to a game at The Fieldhouse. But these were not normal seats. These seats were on the floor, right on the baseline—seats that we could in no way afford. I had never sat that close at an NBA game. I remember two things very clearly about that night. The first was being awestruck at how insanely, ridiculously physical everything was under the basket, and how that physicality never waned. Having played college basketball, I’m not entirely unfamiliar with low-post brutishness. This wasn’t that. This was all-out combat and grappling on EVERY play, for every routine rebound or block-to-block screen—a churning, violent forest of jujitsu and arm-bars that escapes the eye of the television cameras.

The second thing I remember was Ron Artest.

This is the honest-to-God’s truth: I remember being utterly terrified of him and what he seemed capable of doing on that otherwise mundane night, at any moment, to any person—an opponent, a teammate, a ref, a roaming Dippin’ Dots vendor—for any possible reason, or maybe no reason at all. That was the vibe he gave off that game, and I’m guessing every other game as well. That vibe was very, very obvious to my friends and me and to all of us in the first 14 rows. Artest was the Bounty Hunter from Raising Arizona and any living creature in his blast radius immediately understood this at a cellular level. I consciously avoided eye contact with him for that reason. It was … eerie.

The Malice in the Palace was 15 years ago this week, in 2004, and everything that could have been learned from that night has been, everything to say about it written and written again, a thousand times over. I have no desire to rehash it, except to point out a known, unspoken truth about it: something catastrophic like that, involving that version of Artest*, was inevitable. It was going to happen. The details may have been murky and the exact timing unknown, but not the general scope of the destruction.

*I say “that version of Artest” because, knowing what we know now, he was going through some shit in those years—demons that he ultimately, admirably conquered through professional help. I also want to point out that 100 percent of the people I know who’ve met him away from basketball say he is one of the nicest, most charming, most compassionate people they’ve ever met, let alone professional athletes. Separating the player he was from the person he’s always been is important here.

Something remarkably, EXPLOSIVELY bad was destined to happen to that Pacers team with that version of Artest, I will go to my grave believing that. It was one of the true inevitabilities of Indianapolis sports, along with the following:

  • Losing to LeBron James and/or Kyle Korver
  • An injury to a Colts or Pacers superstar at just the wrong time
  • Great weather on Carb Day
  • Carmel High School winning a state swimming title
  • The Tyler Hansbrough pick not working out real great
  • Losing to Billy F***king Volek
  • Beating the Broncos in the playoffs
  • IU basketball winning their holiday tournament by a combined 304 points
  • A 6-story Slick Leonard statue made out of solid gold and Indiana limestone
  • Having exactly 0.00026 percent of Colts/Pacers games on national television in prime time, every year for the next two thousand years
  • Losing in Foxborough
  • Victory Field selling out Dollar Hotdog Night
  • And of course the Colts beating the Texans in Houston, likely sealing the deal with a critical strip-sack fumble in the final minutes of the game. That was the point of all this. I’m sorry.

Colts 24, Texans 20. Enjoy the game, folks.

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