The Los Angeles Lakers defeated Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers for their first Shaq and Kobe era championship, winning the series 4-2. Fans would remember that era as a time where Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers just dominated the league, but the NBA Finals series against the Pacers was a lot closer than we recall.
Three of the four Laker wins came with a margin of seven points or less, the exception being the game one blowout to open the series in Tinseltown. Reggie and the Pacers were much closer to being a championship team than the league gave them credit for, but after countless battles with the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, and the emergence of a young superpower in the Los Angeles Lakers, the Pacers knew that their roster at the time was not going to be able to get it done.
“We had never won a championship, looking at all the contracts and age, it was time for us to get younger. They pulled the plug in getting Jermaine.”Reggie Miller, Untold: The Malice in the Palace
In the quote, Miller refers to Jermaine O’Neal, the young prep star drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, for whom GM Donnie Walsh traded seasoned veteran Dale Davis. At that time, Reggie was nearing the end of his career and was still missing that elusive championship. O’Neal was someone Walsh thought could eventually replace Reggie as the leader a few years down the road; Walsh then traded for Ron Artest and suddenly had an NBA title contender.
“In the 2004 playoffs, it was us (Indiana) versus Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals. We were the two best teams in the league both offensively and defensively, I knew that whoever won that series was going to win the championship.”Reggie Miller, Untold: The Malice in the Palace
To make it clear – this is Reggie saying he was convinced Shaq and Kobe are losing in the Finals either way. That’s how confident Miller was in the Pacers (but also the Pistons.) The Eastern Conference Finals series was one of the most entertaining ones the NBA has ever seen. Despite the Pistons winning in six games, it was full of moments that swung momentum back and forth between the Detroit Pistons and the team with the best record that year, the Indiana Pacers. Who could forget the Tayshaun Prince chase-down on Reggie Miller in game five that set the stage for a closeout game six at the Palace?
While that was the highlight we all remember from that year, the documentary shows the play that sealed Indiana’s fate in game six. This was none other than a Ron Artest flagrant foul by way of an elbow to Rip Hamilton’s face that virtually cost Indiana the chance to force a deciding game seven at home. The costly error by Artest probably cost Reggie his first NBA championship.
“I could not get them to understand the opportunity, I’m pleading with these guys (to) get on the same page.”Reggie Miller, Untold: The Malice in the Palace
O’Neal, Artest, and the rest of the Pacers never managed to get on the same page. In fact, they barely got to share the court thanks to that night at The Palace. It’s funny how a night that turned out to be a coming party for the Pacers as championship contenders turned into the moment that would change the trajectory of their careers forever. Artest and Jackson eventually got their championships later in their careers, but it’s rather unfortunate that the two leaders of a team many believed would inevitably win the championship were the ones who ended up without the title they cared so much to win.
Character is everything, and sometimes no matter how much one is provoked, choosing violence is a course of action that brings forth just much emotional damage as it does physical. Of course, Reggie and Jermaine are over the fact that their careers ended with a few missed opportunities at a championship. Still, it is time to give them their flowers and realize that their lack of a ring had much to do with the other personalities on their team that acted irrationally.
The players involved claim that they acted in self-defense, and while this may be true, Artest certainly had a big role in the escalation of tempers that night. Reggie Miller and Jermaine O’Neal should have retired with NBA championships under their belts, but that did not happen because of Artest. The two legends will never get a ring as players, given that their playing days are over; perhaps this documentary is the only way to come to terms with a situation beyond their control. For us fans, like them or not, the best we can do to right the ship is to watch the documentary and gain a deeper understanding of what happened that night so we can make the right judgments about who really did wrong.