It looked coming in to be the game of the night in the NBA.
It ended up being the game of the decade. But for all the wrong reasons.
On Nov. 19, 2004, the Indiana Pacers traveled to the Palace of Auburn Hills, to face the Detroit Pistons. It was a rematch of the previous spring's Eastern Conference finals, when the Pistons, who had gone 54-28 during the regular season, upset the Pacers, who had finished 61-21, the best in team history.
Detroit went on to win the title. The Pacers, when they entered the Palace that night, were determined to send an early message to the Pistons that they were the team to beat in the East.
The Pacers ended up winning 97-82. But nobody was talking about that after the game.
All the talk was about a horrific brawl that included Pacers forward Ron Artest charging into the standings, landing him a suspension for the rest of the season. Nine players were suspended for a total of 146 games.
The brawl ended up being the story of the decade in the NBA. Not only was it perhaps the ugliest sight the league ever has seen, it sent the NBA into overdrive on working to repair its image. Arena security was beefed up and a dress code enacted 11 months later.
It was a decade that featured some other low moments. In the summer of 2007, it surfaced that referee Tim Donaghy had bet on NBA games, and Donaghy has continued to be in the news after his 15-month prison sentence, claiming other referees were involved in his misdeeds. And in the summer of 2003 Lakers star Kobe Bryant had been arrested in Colorado on a sexual assault charge that was dropped a year later.
But Bryant later showed the decade was not all about bad news. He scored an amazing 81 points, the second most in an NBA game, on Jan. 22, 2006. And Bryant was the Finals Most Valuable Player last June when the Lakers, the team of the decade, won their fourth title in a 10-season span and the first with Bryant not being regarded as Shaquille O'Neal's sidekick.
Speaking of O'Neal, he was the key piece in the trade of the decade, being sent in the summer of 2004 from the Lakers to Miami. By 2006, O'Neal had led the Heat to the NBA title, defeating the Dallas Mavericks, who produced the choke of the decade. Dallas led the series 2-0 and was up by 13 midway through the fourth quarter of Game 3 before collapsing.
The decade also featured the departure of the NBA's greatest-ever player in Michael Jordan, who retired for the third and final time in 2003, and the arrival later that year of the man who might end up being the next Jordan. While Cleveland star LeBron James has yet to win a title, he has become the NBA's second-biggest marketing icon ever behind Jordan.
In 2004, there was the heartwarming story of coach Larry Brown finally winning an NBA title with players who did it the "right way.'' Brown led the Pistons, without a sure-fire Hall of Famer, to a stunning win over the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
But five months after the victory parade the Pistons were part of an NBA nightmare. With 45.9 seconds left against the Pacers, a fight broke out on the court after Detroit center Ben Wallace shoved Artest following a hard foul.
Matters looked to be under control until a fan threw a cup of soda at Artest. He went charging into the stands, which would lead him to be suspended for the season's final 73 games and the playoffs.
In addition to the suspensions, five players were charged with assault, with all eventually sentenced to a year of probation. Five fans were charged, with John Green, who threw the drink at Artest, getting a lifetime ban from Pistons games.
After Artest, the most penalized player was Indiana guard Stephen Jackson, docked 30 games for also going into the stands. Indiana forward Jermaine O'Neal, who fought with fans, got 25 games, a penalty that later was reduced to 15.
In recent interviews with FanHouse, Artest and Jackson didn't show much remorse.
"It wasn't a bad night for me,'' said Artest, now with the Lakers. "It was a bad night for everybody else.''
"It happened,'' said Jackson, now with Charlotte. "I got fined for it. I left it at that. The only thing I remember from the brawl is getting fined. I don't remember how it happened.''
But Indiana fans remember plenty. The team's promising season was devastated, and the Pacers haven't been the same since.
Indiana did make the playoffs in 2004-05 with a 44-38 record, but haven't had a winning season since. Artest was traded in January 2006 and Jackson in January 2007 after they continued to have problems.
The Pistons, who had Wallace suspended for five games but nobody else for more than one, were able to persevere. They went on to lose the NBA Finals in seven games to San Antonio, featuring Tim Duncan, the player of the decade with three titles and a pair of MVP trophies.
After the brawl, the NBA enacted new security guidelines for all NBA arenas. Rules were put in place to restrict alcohol sales.
As the NBA worked to restore its image, also emerging from the incident was a dress code. It was established in October 2005, setting guidelines on how players must look before and after games at the arena and while on the bench in street clothes.
The difference was that brawl didn't spill into the stands. At least there was relief that another ugly incident during a game didn't challenge for story of the decade consideration.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @christomasson.