(David Harrison was a first-round pick out of Colorado by the Indiana Pacers in 2004. He writes here about his NBA career and his experience during Malice at the Palace. It was memorable for many reasons.)
June 28, 2004, was supposed to be the best day of my life.
In that moment I was almost 22 years old and sitting in a downtown Nashville hotel room with my family waiting on David J. Stern to say my name.
I remember looking at my family and thinking how will I take care of us if I don’t get drafted? How will I live? Then with the final pick of the first round, all 7 feet 305 pounds of me, was selected by the Indiana Pacers.
After the momentary relief of now being accepted in the NBA fraternity that I wanted to join since I met Shaquille O’Neal at the NBAPA camp in the summer of 2000 and saw Tim Duncan lead his team past the Knicks in his rookie year, Jay Bilas makes the statement “Why would you draft him? He has small hands and short arms.”
Hearing him say those words struck a fire in me — I truly hate it when commentators who wouldn’t be able to hold my jock strap have the ability to say whatever they wanted.
To this day, if i see Bilas on TV commenting on his “expertise” it makes me heat up.
That was Day One of my NBA career and, honestly, it never got better.
I flew into Indianapolis with my mother and father on June 30, met Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh, and Rick Carlisle, took a few photos and was put into individual workouts straight out of my draft suit.
I didn’t get to say goodbye to my mom and dad when they were transported to the airport. I felt like a piece of meat getting thrown into the grinder.
Kevin O’Neill, aka KO, was my instructor and the only person I liked. KO worked me hard, and by the start of Summer League I was ready and focused on my task of becoming the next great center of the NBA.
Skipping to August, I was told that I had a tear in my meniscus and needed surgery but our other centers were coming in hurt, too — Jeff Foster was hurt, so was Scot Pollard, and Jonathan Bender was living up to his billing of “can get right.”
I met Reggie Miller for the first time, which set off a quick flashback: My father interviewed to be on the staff of the Colts and I went with him to Indianapolis in 1998. We went to a Pacer game and got a photo with Reggie Miller. I kept that photo with me through high school and college as inspiration. At that time, he was my favorite non-center to play the game. I loved his toughness and thought it could make me better not just as a player but as a person. I pulled the pristine photo out of my locker and walked over to “Mr. Miller” as I called him. I introduced myself and stuck out my hand. He looked up from his chair and said “Why is this fat bleeping rookie talking to me?”
I tried to back out and return to my locker in shame, but his buddy Foster saw the photo I had behind my back. “Look he wants your autograph.” Deputy Dog aka Foster snatched my photo and pointed it out to the room that was filling up to hear Reggie dog the rookie.
“You think I’m going to sign this? Maybe if you clean up your bleeping locker and lose some bleeping weight I will.”
He had a point about my locker. I had put my entire life in that room all summer and now that the vets were back, it was time for me to move it but I literally had zero dollars and was living in the Embassy Suites.
I felt the heat of tears welling up in my eyes and knew that I had to get out of there before I hurt someone. I took a deep breath and began to clean up my locker space. That’s when Ron Artest came in. “You’re that guy from ‘The Real World’?” “Yeah I guess, I was just visiting my friend” “Yeah MJ,” I said.
I was waiting for him to start to picking on me but he didn’t. He gave me a small pep talk about keeping my head up and then put on a 40-pound weight vest and began to head out to the court for training.
We became a team, from the first to the last person. Off the court, you couldn’t get us in the same room without threatening us with fines but on it we would fight for each other tooth and nail. This brotherhood was going to be tested on a fateful night in Auburn Hills.
I knew that the year before I arrived Reggie was beaten up, and the Pacers lost the game to Detroit by two points. The Pistons were the defending champs because of that moment, and we were there to set the record straight. We were stomping them. Ron had 24, Jermaine O’Neal (JO) had 20 and 13 boards, Tinsley had a solid line and I had 6 points and 6 rebounds and was at the verge of checking back in the game when it all happened.
I still remember looking up at the clock and smiling, I was killing Ben Wallace (a theme throughout my brief career) and knew I had time to get two more buckets on the severely undersized defensive MVP, but I wasn’t the only person looking for a shot at him. Ron had a grudge against him and with 45 seconds on the clock fouled him hard.
They kind of start at it, it gets broken up, and Ron comes over to the scorer’s table and lays down. The energy left as the refs assessed the proper technicals but revamped after Wallace threw a sweaty headband at Ron.
Then it happened: A cup flies end over end and hits Ron directly in the face. I see Ron go into the stands and following him was Stephen Jackson. I wanted to go into the crowd and get my brothers out of harm’s way. I grabbed “Jack” and pulled him off of the guy he was pounding, yelling “It’s me, it’s me!” the whole time trying to avoid an eye jammy for my efforts. We fight our way back to the center court and then we made a break for it to our locker room.
Now that I have served my punishment I can speak on my actions.
While we were walking out this guy empties his, as we were told to term it, “liquid” from a cup directly into the face of JO point blank. The security guards all jump in front of JO creating a gap in between me and this aggressor.
He was about to throw the cup at me and that’s when I fired a shot at him followed by a “forearm shiver” by some in the media.
I wanted it to break his face and I did. I felt his teeth move when I made contact with my left and the “forearm shiver” took him out. But his friends didn’t like that and began to attack me. I went to the ground to grab the guy and use him as a human shield to the attack. Then a bright light and a bunch of pain happened.
Later, I would see the cause of the light/pain was a chair thrown from the upper balcony that landed on my head, and the friends of the now bleeding and drooling man began to kick me. Someone grabbed me by my ankles and pulled me out. I stood up to see a stick held dust pan being slammed against the wall right above the head of a security guard.
Since it was near the end of the game, arena security had already been called outside to help with dispersing traffic. The security returned to the venue, not to help us fight off the fans… but to fight us.
I wanted it to break his face and did, I felt his teeth move when I made contact with my left and the ‘forearm shiver’ took him out. But his friends didn’t like that and began to attack me I went to the ground to grab the guy and use him as a human shield to the attack. Then a bright light and a bunch of pain happened.
After what felt like an eternity we were all sitting safe and sound in the locker room.
That’s when comedy ensued. Ron was walking around saying “My bad guys…” Then he asked, “What you think we are going to get fined for this?”
A.J. responds, “Bleep a fine Ron, they are going to suspend us!”
“Awwww no!!! I don’t want to get suspended awww man aww man.” I began to laugh at this moment but it ended quickly when JO went after Rick. JO was talking about how the coaches were not fighting with us, and Rick chimes in with “Bleep you JO!” They both stand up and then Mike Brown comes over and says “Look JO I got hit in my lip, too” pointing to his booboo.
Seeing him pointing to his cracked lip returned laughter to the room.
After a knock on the door, followed by a lot of heated words between our armed security, and the local police we were all told to go to the bus and lay on the ground once on it. This was the only moment I was actually afraid. We were told to lay down because they thought that people would shoot at our bus.
We sped to the airport, took the short trip back to Indianapolis and landed to hundreds of Pacer fans cheering us on. At that time, I knew that we would be punished but had no idea of the severity.
My punishment came later when I was up for the rookie team and was not allowed to participate due to my involvement in the fight. It also came later when, after a two-hour delay because a bomb threat was called into the Palace, a fan ran down the stairs yelling something at me and I told him to sit the “bleep down and shut the bleep up.”
I was suspended one game. The only honor I take from the moment was the next game against the Orlando Magic, we almost won with six players and received a standing ovation from the Fieldhouse. It would be my greatest moment as an NBA player. At the time, I didn’t know my life and career would continue the downward spiral leading to my exile to China.