It was the ugliest scene in NBA history. The 2004 brawl between Indiana and Detroit resulted in nine players being suspended a total of 146 games and the league getting a serious black eye. But at least one positive story emerged from the brawl. His name is James Jones. After being a second-round pick by the Pacers in 2003, Jones played in a meager six games as a rookie. The 2004-05 season started pretty much the same way, with the 6-foot-8 swingman languishing on the bench. Then came the "Malice at the Palace’" on Nov. 19, 2004, when Jones played five minutes in the ninth game of the season. After all hell broke loose that night at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the Pacers had five players suspended, including small forward Metta World Peace (then known as Ron Artest) for the remainder of the season and shooting guard Stephen Jackson for 30 games. Those two wings played ahead of Jones. With the Pacers seriously depleted, Jones got his chance. He went on to play well enough the rest of that season to get a three-year, $8 million contract from Phoenix in the summer of 2005. Jones is still in the NBA as a 10-year veteran for the Miami Heat. The Heat are facing Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals, the farthest the Pacers have advanced since they made the East finals in Jones’ rookie year before being decimated the next following season. “I was a benefit for me,’’ Jones said in an interview with FOX Sports Florida about getting his first real NBA opportunity due to the brawl. “I was stuck behind some very good talent in Indiana and with the suspensions I had an opportunity to play, and I played well, which I expected and it kind of propelled me the rest of my career.’’ The night after the brawl, the Pacers were down to six players due to injuries and the NBA having suspended World Peace, Jackson and forward Jermaine O’Neal indefinitely as it sorted though the situation. Jones, who had never at that point in his NBA career even played 20 minutes in a game, logged 43 in an 86-83 loss to Orlando while recording career highs of 12 points and 12 rebounds. Three days after that, Jones was even better, getting 22 points and 10 rebounds in 44 minutes as the Pacers at least had eight players available in a 106-86 win over Boston. By the end of November, Jones had a 27-point game. "It was fun," the sharpshooting Jones said of finally getting an opportunity. "It took my teammates being suspended and our season turned upside down for me to get that chance. But that’s what this league is about. This league is about opportunities and making the most of your opportunities. It was bittersweet because we had a chance to compete for a championship (in 2004-05). But those were the cards we were dealt and I tried to do the best I could. It gave me a chance to play." Among other Indiana players suspended, O’Neal was sat down for 15 games, guard Anthony Johnson for five and guard Reggie Miller for one game. The Pacers, who were expected to contend for the title after going 61-21 in 2003-04 and losing 4-2 in the East finals to the eventual champion Pistons, slumped to 44-38. Jones never will forget that Friday night at the Palace. It looked as it would be a very satisfying win over their Central Division rival for the Pacers, up 15 points in the final minute. But Detroit center Ben Wallace was fouled hard on a drive to the basket by World Peace and retaliated by giving the Pacers forward a hard shove. Benches soon emptied. World Peace and Jackson then went into the stands and fought with fans and O’Neal tangled with one on the court. "It was just chaos," Jones remembers about the game that ended up being called with 45.9 seconds remaining and the Pacers given a 97-82 win. “It went from just the late stages of a game that was pretty much determined to something besides basketball, which isn’t what we do. We’re basketball players. We’re not fighters. We’re not wrestlers. That night, the emotions got the best of everyone." Jones was at the scorer’s table ready to check in for some mop-up time when the brawl erupted. He feared for his safety as fans began throwing objects.
Malice at the Palace still haunts Pacers, but led to James Jones thriving
Fox Sports Florida | May 25