Friday, November 19, 2010

November 19, 2004: The Brawl

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - As with most explosive moments that have happened on a basketball court, it started with a hard foul. And though it was a foul, it seemed mostly harmless.

Late in a game the Pacers were winning handily, Indiana's Ron Artest fouled Detroit's Ben Wallace from behind on a layup attempt. It was a hard foul, two hands in the back, but not excessively so. Wallace took exception, though, and went after Artest, pushing him with both hands in the face. As expected, especially in games between two rivals as heated as the Pistons and Pacers were at that time, it escalated into a shoving match between the teams.

The typical posturing occurred. There was some pushing, some yelling. Nothing too big. Artest avoided the larger Wallace, laying down on the scorer's table, 10 players between him and his adversary. He had headphones on as he chatted with a radio announcer. Wallace remained mad, still trying to get to Artest.

Then the cup flew.

Before anybody could comprehend what was happening, Artest was in the stands punching a fan. He had been hit by a cup of Diet Coke, and he retaliated by going after the man who he thought had thrown it. Only he thought wrong, ended up fighting someone who had been sitting behind the perpetrator. Either way, a run-of-the-mill NBA brawl had turned ugly quickly.

There was more. Artest's teammate, Stephen Jackson, also went into the stands, not to pull Artest away but to punch somebody else. Wallace went in to try to pull some people off of others. Some fans spilled onto the floor in an attempt to get away from the players, and Pacer Jermaine O'Neal responded by taking a running swing at one.

Ugly wasn't a strong enough word.

The NBA's reaction was swift. Artest was suspended for the rest of the season, Jackson for 30 games. O'Neal's suspension was orginally 25 games, but that was reduced to 15 after appeal. In all, 10 players received a suspension of some kind, and five faced criminal consequences.

The fight destroyed the Pacers. Once favored to go to the Eastern finals, they were now gutted of several key players from their team; the franchise hasn't been the same since. More changes were affected, including increased security between benches and the stands and reduction in beer sales.

Artest specifically became a pariah. After returning from his suspension the next year, he was quickly traded as Indiana tried to rid itself from what happened. To this day, the brawl is the first thing people think of when Artest is brought up, even though he is now an NBA champion with the Lakers. It was one of the truly ugly incidents in NBA history.

November 19, 1966: EAST LANSING, Mich. - It was a game that lived up to its hype. No. 1 Notre Dame at No. 2 Michigan State, essentially playing for the 1966 national championship. Michigan State, playing at home, jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but Notre Dame cut it to 10-7 at the half, then kicked the tying field goal on the first play of the 4th quarter. Each team had one good scoring chance after that: Michigan State had what would have been an easy touchdown pass foiled when the pass fell short, forcing the receiver to stop to catch it, which allowed the defense to catch him. Later, Notre Dame had a 41-yard field goal attempt that went just wide. At the end of this classic game, Notre Dame had the ball on its own 30 with 1:10 to go. It was a long shot, but they had a chance to drive for the winning field goal. Instead, to the chagrin of everybody watching, coach Ara Parseghian elected to instead run out the clock, choosing to play for the tie rather than risk a turnover that could lead to defeat. The highly controversial decision helped put a damper on what had been a great game, but the decision worked. When both teams finished the season with identical 9-0-1 records, they finished the season ranked in the same order as they had been entering the game: Notre Dame No. 1, Michigan State No. 2. The Irish had won their national championship.

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