The infamous Malice at the Palace happened in 2004, and it forever changed the game for the league, the players, fans, and referees. Could it have been avoided? Could the referees have handled the incident better? Here’s ex-referee Joey Crawford and game official Tim Donaghy’s take on the brawl.
Crawford: It was handled very, very poorly
Crawford built a reputation as one of the toughest game officials in the NBA. Most famous for ejecting Tim Duncan for merely laughing, Crawford’s solution for the Malice is on-brand.
For him, the brawl should not have happened in the first place if preventive measures were taken outright. That means ejection should have been done sooner to pacify the tension.
“You go in, and you hit them with Ts, and you throw them out. You go to each coach, and you say, ‘Coach, they are done for the night. Technical fouls offset.’ Now, you go to replay. But you get rid of the players. Get rid of them. Get them off the court. Not only for the game’s sake but for their own sake. Get rid of them. Get them off the court. Now, if those three referees would’ve done that, they wouldn’t have had the cup thrown at somebody that is laying on the table. I would’ve never let a player lay on the table. I would’ve just walked up and said, “You two guys, get out of here.”Joey Crawford, Indy Cornrows
The game was already decided, but anything could happen with super competitive and hotheads like Ben Wallace and Ron Artest. Especially if the tension had been brewing for some time. Ejecting them as means to pacify things would have prevented things from escalating. These are all coming from hindsight, and at that time, the game officials, like Donaghy, were probably preoccupied with something else.
Donaghy: A lot changed for the referees after that game
Donaghy remains one of the most controversial game officials in the history of the NBA. He was banned due to alleged links to gambling. Tim was actually present during that game, and he admitted, a lot could have been prevented had they controlled the game better.
Donaghy admitted that Ron Artest was one of the players the referees agreed they need to keep an eye on before the game. With his character and penchant for doing things without reason or logic, the referee squad agreed Artest requires extra attention. But something’s got to give in a contest with a lot of shoving featuring Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, and Ron Artest.
There were speculations that referees did not act fast nor throw themselves to separate players. Donaghy admitted that ejecting at that point in the game was meaningless. After the incident, the rule book changed, and protocols were set in place.
“They wanted us to get in between the players quicker, I know they were very disappointed. They chastised (another official) for not getting involved in it at all and getting in between the players. There were some training tools that were put in place after that.”Tim Donaghy, USA Today Sports
The incident prompted new rules and training for referees. They are just humans prone to errors, but they should control the games because they are the only ones who get to be on the court. The brawl should not have happened, but many lessons were learned and used to improve the game.
At the end of the day, the most responsible person in the entire situation was the “genius” who threw the bottle at Artest. Many people could’ve reacted better, but let’s not forget who escalated the situation from a standard on-court scuffle to an all-out brawl.