Finally, finally, someone is legitimately going to challenge the sports anthology docuseries supremacy of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. Don’t get me wrong. I love 30 for 30. But they’re hard to watch nowadays. No one has cable, and everyone already has like 50 streaming apps so subscribing to ESPN’s streaming app just seems like a giant waste of money.
But Netflix has an answer. Untold is a five-part, serialized sports anthology docuseries (try explaining that sentence to someone from 100 years ago) that will air a new installment each Wednesday for the next five weeks, beginning with this past Wednesday’s installment. Speaking of this week’s installment, it was called “Malice at the Palace” and dealt with, you guessed it, the 2004 brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons that was almost immediately dubbed the Malice at the Palace.
We’re going to review each installment each week, but not the full reviews like we have done for other shows. Instead we will provide a concise summary of the show and a brief analysis that will hopefully provide you with the information you need to decide whether you’ll watch it, too.
“Malice at the Palace” really reminded me of how bad film quality was not all that long ago. But grainy 2004 footage aside, the show did a fantastic job of recapping the history between the Pacers and Pistons, the game itself, the brawl, and the aftermath. Commentary from Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest), Stephen Jackson, Reggie Miller, Jermaine O’Neal, Ben Wallace, and Charlie Haddad (a fan who decided as an overweight man of average height he was the perfect person to physically confront Ron Artest).
The show begins with Reggie Miller wanting a championship, the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals in which the Pistons beat the Pacers in a good series and went on to win the NBA title, and the resulting bad blood between the two teams. The night of the brawl, November 19, 2004, was fairly mundane until Ron Artest committed a hard foul on the Pistons’ Ben Wallace when the Pacers were up 15 with very little time left. Wallace took exception, pushing and shoving ensued, and everything looked like it would fizzle out like any other NBA dust up until Artest, who for reasons unknown to anyone was lying down on the scorer’s table, was hit with a beer thrown by a fan. Artest charged into the crowd to confront the fan, and all hell broke loose.
Soon some fans were rushing the court to confront players, players were running into the stands to confront fans, food, drinks, and even chairs were being thrown down mostly on the visiting Pacers, police and security was nowhere to be found, and several people were hit hard by reality in the form of professional athletes’ fists.
The commentary provides a look into the psyche of somewhat unpredictable players like Jermaine O’Neal and Ron Artest, and also includes the reasoning behind why the local district attorney chose to charge many fans with various crimes. O’Neal especially presents himself as a person who regrets being involved in the ordeal and really as the biggest victim of the disproportionate punishments handed down by the league. Ultimately, the 70-minute installment provides just the combination of raw footage, interviews, backstory, and new information that any sports junkie like me loves to see in a sports documentary.
“Malice at the Palace” is well worth the watch. It is weirdly nostalgic (I was in high school and watched the coverage from a CiCi’s pizza buffet after a school basketball game), but also painted a fuller picture of what happened. Knowing the backstory of the rivalry between the teams, Reggie Miller’s strong desire for a championship, Ron Artest’s struggles with mental well-being, and the unruly fans who really started the whole thing makes the Malice look a little more human and a little less like “thugs” serving up street justice to unsuspecting Michiganders. If the remaining installments of Untold (a list of which can be found here) are even half as good as this one, it’s going to be a great series.
Most importantly, ESPN no longer has a monopoly on the idea of an anthology docuseries. The variety in style and source will enable more people to bring better content to more people, and that is good for everyone.