It feels like a lifetime since those early days of the pandemic when many of us became completely obsessed with Netflix’s excellent NBA docuseries The Last Dance.
The Last Dance captured the imaginations of sports fans across the globe and like The Tiger King, with as much mayhem and nearly as many bad haircuts (we’re looking at you, Dennis Rodman), the series provided a perfect antidote for the self-isolation blues many of us were dealt with in the wake of Covid-19.
More than anything, the popularity of The Last Dance showed there was hunger for high-quality sports documentaries, and following on from its huge success (23.8m people from outside the US streamed it in its first four weeks) comes the first episode of Netflix’s Untold series, ‘Malice at the Palace’, which will certainly give any sports fans their basketball fix in the wake of The Last Dance’s absence.
Untold: Malice at the Palace tells the story of the infamous 2004 match between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons which could be the most bonkers NBA clash to ever take place on the court.
In its closing moments, the game descended into chaos when Pistons center Ben Wallace reacted badly to a dubious challenge by the Pacers’ Ron Artest (Now named Metta World Peace). To add fuel to the fire, a drunken Detroit fan launched a beer cup at Artest which sent him scrambling into the stands in a fury, triggering a mass brawl inside The Palace of Auburn Hills.
When the dust had settled, the NBA suspended nine players for a total of 146 games, leading to the players losing $11 million in salary. Five players were charged with assault, and eventually sentenced to a year of probation and community service, whilst five fans also faced assault charges and were banned from attending Pistons home games for life.
Basketball fans and commentators from across the US were appalled by the incident, but the players themselves, particularly Pacers trio Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal were vilified for their part. According to the media, the NBA suddenly had a ‘thug’ image thanks to its new ‘hip-hop generation,’ and these three black superstars would face the brunt of the criticism for what had unfolded. Untold: Malice at the Palace though, shows us the real side to the story.
Artest, Jackson and O’Neal are each front and centre in this fabulously shot documentary and each brings new life to a story that is still as shocking nearly 20 years on. Artest discusses his struggles with anxiety and depression in the build-up to the match, referring to himself as a “powder keg”, while Jackson and O’Neal, who retell their side of the story with perfect clarity, show how quick the sporting world was to rush to judgement.
This new doc doesn’t change the narrative of what happened in 2004, but it does do a great job of showing us the full picture, presenting all the facts without any of the speculation. It is unmissable viewing and perfect if you’re at a loss for something to watch this weekend.