I was standing inside the Pacers' locker room in San Antonio a few hours before they played the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 6, 2005 watching three Pacers tease each other how they fumbled talking to investigators and prosecutors for their invovlement in the infamous "Brawl" between the Pacers and Detroit Pistons on Nov. 19, 2004.
Clearly, the three Pacers inside the locker room at that moment - one of whom I clearly recall was veteran guard Anthony Johnson - did not realize I was standing there, didn't care, or didn't think it was in poor taste. Or maybe they needed to try to make the best out of something that effectively sank their season.
Ten years ago today, Pistons forward Ben Wallace popping Pacers forward Ron Artest in the chest with both hands eventually led to the ugliest moment in NBA history as players fought fans. At the time, the Pacers were coached by current Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle. They had one of the two or three best teams in the NBA, and were a favorite to come out of the East.
The Brawl, or Malice at the Palice, ended that, as Artest was suspended for the season, Stephen Jackson was suspended for 30 games and forward Jermaine O'Neal was suspended for 25 games, which was later reduced to 15.
"I don't talk about that any more," Carlisle told me. "I quit talking about that a few years ago."
Most parties invovlved no longer talk about the incident, and despite Carlisle's considerable touch on the Mavs during their title run in 2010 how he handled the 2004-'05 season will forever remain his best coaching job.
Back on that night in January, I asked Jermaine O'Neal about the incident. If you go back and watch the footage of the Brawl, he threw what would have been a devastating punch at a fan that, because he slipped, missed.
"It wasn't something that was right, by any means," he told me. "It was a situation about jeopardizing people's lives. No one should have to go through it on any level in any part of life. That's what it was about. It wasn't about sports ..."
Despite the depleted roster, the Pacers finished 44-38 and defeated the Boston Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Pacers season finished in the next round when the Pistons eliminated them in six games.
The night after the Brawl, the Pacers could only suit six players and lost by three at home to the Orlando Magic. The Magic had players such as Dwight Howard, Grant Hill, DeShawn Stevenson, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson.
The Pacers team that night featured Fred Jones, Eddie Gill, David Harrison, James Jones, Austin Croshere, and John Edwards.
Then Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of Carlisle that season: "There have been a lot of great coaching jobs, but if I had to cast a vote, it would be for Rick Carlisle. He has done an amazing job to keeping that thing afloat."
A 44-38 record will never be recognized as a great season, or any hardware, but what Carlisle did that season remains the best performance of his career.
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