Netflix’s ‘Malice at the Palace’ doc emerges as mixed bag for Pistons fans

The Palace of Auburn Hills on October 6, 2019 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images)
The Palace of Auburn Hills on October 6, 2019 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images) /
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Detroit Pistons, Ben Wallace
Ben Wallace #3 of the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Malice at the Palace documentary: Good and bad

The director, Russ, relies very heavily on building up the relationship between O’Neal, Artest, and Miller. The focus also heavily favors O’Neal, not surprising since he served as an executive producer for the documentary.

Here lies the first missed opportunity of the documentary. Artest is the real story from the Pacers side of the Malice at the Palace, not O’Neal. He literally threw the first punch.

But the documentary glances over Artest throughout much of its runtime. This is unfortunate because, in the brief glimpses we get of Artest talking about himself and the brawl, a lot of great information needed to be elaborated on.

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There is a brief moment where Artest spoke about the anxiety and mental health issues he was facing going into the 2004-05 season. But from that portion of the interview, all the audience is told is that Artest was seeing a therapist and it was hard to control his emotions.

Later on in his career, Artest (then known as Metta World Peace) was a key member of the Los Angeles Lakers during the later stages of the Kobe Bryant era.

Russ missed a great opportunity for his documentary to really dig into Artest’s mental health and how it was affecting his personality, relationships with teammates, and overall temperament. Instead, the doc opts to spend its time focusing on O’Neal (the executive producer) and his path to NBA stardom.

The first 25 minutes of the documentary are dedicated to introducing the four Pacers to the audience. O’Neal receives the majority of this time focusing on him being drafted out of high school to the Portland Trail Blazers. He eventually gets traded to the Pacers, and his career begins to take off.

With brief glances over the careers of Artest and Miller, the documentary then shifts its focus to the 2004 Eastern Conference finals matchup between the Pacers and Pistons. In yet another missed opportunity, the documentary focuses on Indiana’s stars sulking over how they thought they deserved to win, instead of the brewing rivalry between the two teams.

The 2004 Eastern Conference finals would have been a great way to set up the physical style of play both teams employed. It would have also been the perfect way to set up the animosity building between the two teams. Instead, it chooses to focus on Miller and O’Neal sulking over a missed opportunity for a championship.

(Pistons history note: That was the ‘Goin to Work’ team that, after knocking off the Pacers, crushed the far more talented  Shaq and Kobe’ Lakers in the finals.)

Most of the issues with this documentary come in the first 25 minutes of runtime. There is a lot of padding in the first third of the doc. It takes 25 minutes to introduce the players involved, when it really could have been done in 10 minutes or less.

It is unfortunate, because elaborating on Artest’s mental health issues and the brewing physicality between the Pacers and Pistons would have made for a much stronger opening, than the long, drawn-out introductions of O’Neal’s and Miller’s careers.

Luckily for the viewers, the documentary really shines through once it finally gets to the events on Nov. 19, 2004.