Metta and the Malice at the Palace
Updated: Feb 10, 2022
If you haven’t seen the Malice at the Palace documentary yet, I highly recommend it. It takes an overdue look at the notorious fight between the Indiana Pacers, the Detroit Pistons, and the Detroit Pistons fans in 2004. I vaguely remember when this happened, and when I dive into my limited memory on this, the scene that replays in my mind is Metta Sandiford-Artest (then Ron Artest) charging into a stunned Pistons crowd to lay a haymaker on an unsuspecting fan.
I learned through the documentary that my recollection is badly skewed by racist media coverage and edited video clips. To learn more about that, again, you simply must watch the documentary.
Surprisingly, what stuck with me the most from the doc wasn’t how horrible the Pistons fans were (and some of them were horrible - looking at you John Green) or how badly this impacted some of the Pacers players (Jermaine O’Neal’s career was never the same) but how much has changed regarding mental health awareness.
At the beginning of the ‘04 season, Metta knew something was off. He wasn’t feeling himself. He approached his team and asked to retire; they said no. He was in therapy regularly to learn to cope with depression and anxiety. His heart was constantly racing, and his emotions were all over the place. When he told his team that he wanted to take some time off in the beginning of the season, Reggie Miller rebuffed. “You’re already asking for time off??”
So, Metta checked out. He said that he had to attend a funeral and instead popped up at the Source Awards. He dedicated a lot of time to his debut rap album. He attracted the frustration of his teammates and the franchise.
What was then viewed as lazy or entitled, today may be viewed as, dare I say, self-care? Sure, he lied about the funeral (which is never great) but it was to get the time off that he so desperately needed. Granted, being a presenter at the Source Awards has very different optics than having a quiet day at home to regain your bearings. But, if the Pacers had been more understanding of Artest’s mental health struggles, maybe he would not have felt the need to lie, deflect, and distract to get time away from the sport.
Performing at the highest level is bound to come with heavy demands on one’s mental health. Simone Biles, arguably the greatest gymnast of all time, recently went to the Olympics and had to withdraw from most of her events due to the “twisties.” The Olympic body seemed to be supportive and understanding of her decision, but plenty of Americans felt otherwise.
Naomi Osaka also recently took some time off from tennis for mental health reasons after difficult encounters with the media. She too had to defend herself against critics that had the audacity to assume to know what is best for someone they do not know personally.
And for us “normal folk,” the pandemic pushed (and continues to push) a lot of us – especially working moms – to the brink. But comparatively speaking, we were better suited to recognize and label our struggles in 2020 than we would have been in 2004. Words like anxiety, burnout, and wellness are in our culture's lexicon. Hopefully, if you were to approach your employer soon after the holiday break to request time off for mental health reasons, they would not respond alà Reggie Miller “You’re already asking for time off??”
Or you too, may end up at the Source Awards.
What are your thoughts? Have you seen the documentary?