The NBA learned from ‘Malice at the Palace,’ Will the NFL learn from its woes?

Before the brawl headed into the crowd, there was a dustup between Ben Wallace and Ron Artest.

Before the brawl headed into the crowd, there was a dustup between Ben Wallace and Ron Artest.

By Charles Glover Jr.

On November 19, 2004 the NBA was turned upside down with a brawl that eventually changed the view of players and the league itself. Dubbed the “Malice at the Palace,” the brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons erupted into the stands and earned recognition by the Associated Press as “the most infamous brawl in NBA history.”

The brawl spilled into the crowd as things escalated during the infamous night in Detroit.

The brawl spilled into the crowd as things escalated during the infamous night in Detroit.

Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) was at the center of the brawl that started after Artest and Pistons center Ben Wallace got into a minor altercation. Artest then threw a drink at a fan from the crowd. Artest then charged into the stands and attacked the person that thought was the assailant. Other Pacers like Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’neal were fierce in their support of their teammate during the melee that spread from the crowd onto the court.

The result was a prolonged stain on the image of the NBA as the fight with fans seemed to justify the concerns by some that the NBA had become too boorish and abrasive to accommodate the upscale portion of their fan-base. NBA’s commissioner at the time, David Stern, decided to institute sweeping changes to bridge the gap between NBA fans and its players. Several players received stiff penalties, highlighted by Artest’s 73-game suspension, which was the equivalent to all games remaining in the season.

David Stern was the commissioner of the NBA during the Malice at the Palace and was at the forefront of major changes that eventually benefitted the NBA.

David Stern was the commissioner of the NBA during the Malice at the Palace and was at the forefront of major changes that eventually benefitted the NBA.

The league also made changes to security measures and alcohol limits at games. Shortly thereafter, the NBA instituted a dress code, requiring the players to dress in suits when traveling for games. The dress code was geared towards changing the perception that too many players were distancing themselves from fans by embracing hip hop culture in their dress and attitude. The NBA became the first of the major sports to have such a requirement.

The four prominent participants in the Pacers - Pistons  brawl (l - r) Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine  O'neal, Ben Wallace.

The four prominent participants in the Pacers – Pistons brawl (l – r) Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O’neal, Ben Wallace.

There were many opponents to some of the changes, specifically the dress code, as the changes seemed to be an overreaction to the “Malice at the Palace.” However, there was no doubt the NBA as facing an image problem. There was also increasing frustration with the NBA as they struggled in their representation of the USA in the 2004 Olympics and 2006 World Cup. These events provided enough of an impetus by Stern to make major changes to the way people view NBA players.

Stern has made a number of questionable decisions but the approach he took to reshape the image of the NBA at that time was a necessary one. The changes were not popular amongst everyone, including many fans. There was also renewed efforts to bring the best players to international competition. This calculated move helped bring national support to the NBA players during their gold medal run in the 2008 Olympics and thereafter.

The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell (c) could learn from the NBA on how to change league perception following scandals involving Ray Rice (r) and Adrian Peterson (l).

The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell (c) could learn from the NBA on how to change league perception following scandals involving Ray Rice (r) and Adrian Peterson (l).

The changes to NBA policies and initiatives were reactions to a number of negative incidents that were highlighted by the “Malice at the Palace.” Stern and NBA executives were wise enough to sense that there was enough of the fan-base that desired noticeable changes to some aspects of how NBA players operate. There are times when it is necessary to make forceful changes to make a lasting impact and the NBA was able to shift the perception in their favor.

However, the shift in perception took years to take effect. The lesson NFL commissioner Roger Goodell can apply to the current dismal state of affairs with the NFL with the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson scandal is that it is necessary to make forceful changes that address the problem. There also must be patience that is earned from operating in a matter that demonstrates that the league is as appalled by the troubles of the league and will take exceptional measures to rectify matters.

(l - r) Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James have helped reshape the NBA image with Team USA and by making an impact in their communities as well as for their teams.

(l – r) Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James have helped reshape the NBA image with Team USA and by making an impact in their communities as well as for their teams.

The NBA now has a number of stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul who are noticed for their great play on the court and positive impact away from the game as well. The NBA has also seen increase in viewership and monetary growth in the 10 years since the “Malice at the Palace.” As the next 10 years unfold, the NBA seems to be miles away from the negativity that surrounded the league in 2004.will the NFL be smart enough to emulate the NBA model, which has improved the league’s image and profitability at the same time? Only time will tell.–OnPointPress.net–

Charles Glover Jr. is a sports aficionado and a management training consultant. Follow me @OpenWindoMES on Twitter.com.