The Pacers-Pistons Brawl Was 20 Times Worse In Person Than It Was On TV

Grantland has a fine oral history of the 2004 Pacers-Pistons brawl up today. Jonathan Abrams talks to almost all of the interested parties—Jermaine O'Neal, Steven Jackson, Scot Pollard, Joe Dumars, Jim Gray, Larry Brown, Tim Donaghy—save the forward formerly known as Ron Artest, and we learn many things about the fracas, which O'Neal said was 20 times worse in person.

Among them: Steven Jackson cares...

Jackson: My initial reaction was to go grab Ron. But as soon as I hopped up [into the stands], another guy threw a beer in his face. My reaction was to retaliate. I don't regret being there for my teammate. But I regret going in the stands and fighting fans. It was totally wrong, but you don't think about that when somebody you call your brother is in harm's way. The only thing you're thinking about is getting out there and helping him. That's the definition of a teammate, being together, being there for your teammate. And like Tim Duncan says, I'm the ultimate teammate. A lot of people just think I was being a thug in going in there. My whole thought was, my teammate is in the stands fighting and I'm going to be there for him. I knew as soon as I took the first step to go into the stands that there was going to be consequences behind it, no question. But I can deal with those consequences knowing that my teammate is here alive and healthy, [rather] than me standing on the court watching him, worrying about my career and money and he's sitting over there bleeding to death.

Jermaine O'Neal almost killed a guy...

Jim Gray: That one guy would have gotten killed if Jermaine O'Neal would have hit him. He was lucky he slipped.

Jackson: I didn't see it, but you could hear it. Out of all the noise in the arena, you still heard that punch.

Tom Wilson, Pistons CEO: For that one moment you're thinking, My God. He's going to kill this guy.

Pollard: That guy he tried to hit is lucky. There's not a question in my mind that there's a fan out there alive right now because my friend slipped on beer or whatever it was and missed that punch. It's good that he did, because he'd be in trouble or maybe be in jail right now.

... and Ron Artest was naive.

Jackson: After we calmed down, [Artest] looked at me like, "Jack, you think we going to get in trouble?" Jamaal Tinsley fell out laughing. I said, "Are you serious, bro? Trouble? Ron, we'll be lucky if we have a freaking job." That lets me know he wasn't in his right mind, to ask that question.

Pollard: That's 100 percent true. We laughed our asses off about that. "Yeah, Ron. Yeah, there are going to be some problems, buddy. You hit a fan." I couldn't believe it. He was in shock that what he had just done was bad. I don't know what his mentality is like on the inside, but outside looking in, you can sit there and say, "Wow. That's trippy that somebody can go through that type of experience and wonder if there's going to be repercussions."

Go read the whole thing!

And watch the whole thing too: