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Sports Business

Pacers broadcaster recounts breaking back in brawl

September 23, 2015
KEYWORDS Sports Business

I’ve been the IBJ sports biz reporter for more than 15 years, and this month I learned something new—and amazing—about one of the biggest sports happenings involving Indianapolis in the 2000s and about one of the most well-known people on the Indiana sports scene.

Here’s the tease: Indiana Pacers play-by-play radio broadcaster Mark Boyle is one tough dude. And I mean tough with a capital T.

But first, let’s go back to how this revelation began.

The IBJ’s second annual Interview Issue finds its way into area mailboxes (digital and post office receptacles) this weekend.

The great part about doing question-and-answer features for a special issue like this is that while you target a few specific topics, you also ask a bevy of general interest questions.

The answers to those questions are where you often learn the most interesting and unexpected things about people you’ve known—or known of—for years.

After taping a 30-minute question-and-answer session with Boyle at a northwest side coffee house, I turned off my recorder and began chatting with him about various subjects.

Why did I turn off my recorder?!

My mental recorder was still on when Boyle began telling me about some back stiffness he was having.

Why was he having back pain? I asked the same question.

Well, Boyle tells me matter-of-factly, that he broke five vertebrae in his back a few years ago. Well, that sort of revelation is an ear opener.

“How did that happen?” I asked.

“In the brawl in Detroit,” he responded.

Come again.

“Are you talking about the famous brawl between the Pacers and Pistons in 2004? Malice in the Palace?” I asked.

As we stood up, Boyle began to recount the tale. Why did I turn my recorder off?!! And why didn’t I turn it back on?!!!

At least after 26 years in this business, I’m smart enough to run to my van and jot down notes of an interesting conversation.

Boyle explained that he and Slick Leonard were sitting courtside calling the Pacers-Pistons game in Auburn Hills when the brouhaha started on that ill-fated November night.

Boyle began to get an uneasy feeling when then Pacers forward Ron Artest was laying on the scorers’ table shortly after an on-court scuffle with Pistons’ forward Ben Wallace late in the game. Artest even put on a pair of headphones and began talking to Boyle. The mic attached to the headphones was turned off—for obvious reasons.

Boyle began asking himself why NBA officials didn’t get Artest off that bench. Or better yet, why didn’t Pacers assistant coach Chuck Person, who was hired specifically to look after Artest and keep him out of trouble, do just what he was hired to do—at the very moment the Pacers most needed him to do it?

“Then the cup flew in,” Boyle recalled.

A fan heaved a drink at Artest as he layed on the table right in front of Boyle and Leonard.

Boyle was already waiting spring-loaded in his chair for something bad to happen. And boy did it.

Artest leapt up on the table, turned toward the fans and jumped toward the seating area. Boyle jumped up to block Artest.

Mark Boyle is relatively thick—and athletic—by radio broadcaster standards. He walks five miles a day and looks as if he’s done a few push-ups in his day.

But make no mistake; he’s no match for Artest, who at 6-7 and 260 pounds—maybe a bit more—during his playing days is, as they say in sports, a full-grown man. He was thickly muscled from head to toe.

Despite Boyle’s best efforts to wrap up Artest, the broadcaster was mowed down and landed flat on his back on the concrete floor. The rest was a blur, Boyle explained, but he was able to get up and get out of harm’s way from there.

Artest meanwhile went into the stands to battle whatever fans he could find willing to throw down.

Boyle recalled his wife later musing: “‘If you could have stopped Ronnie from going into the stands, none of this would have happened.’ I say, “Well, Jesus, if I could have stopped Ron from going into the stands, I would be playing in the NFL.”

Boyle, a cut on his head and face—possibly from Artest stepping on it—made his way to the Pacers locker room, where the team’s trainers treated him.

Later, after Artest entered the locker room, the Pacers’ forward asked Boyle what happened to him. Boyle told Artest that he ran him over on his way into the stands. Boyle recalls that Artest was concerned and apologetic—but apparently oblivious to what he had done to the broadcaster.

On the flight home—the Pacers broadcasters fly on the same charter plane as the players and coaches—Boyle’s back began to tighten and hurt. Pacers trainers affixed a large and rather awkward ice pack to his back.

Most of the players sit in the front of the plane, but Artest always chose to sit in the back with the broadcast team and other Pacers support staff.

As Boyle walked up and down the aisle at the back of the plane, Artest again asked Boyle what happened to him.

“I said, ‘Damn it Ron. I already told you. You ran over me,’” Boyle exclaimed.

Artest had many skills and attributes that made him a great basketball player. Apparently a long-term memory wasn’t one of them.

As for Boyle, his broken back was confirmed later that week. Despite the injury, he continued his broadcast duties. Players apparently aren’t the only ones to play injured.

There was never an inkling, on Boyle’s part, of filing a lawsuit against Artest or anyone (or anything) else concerning the incident. And there appear to be no hard feelings.

When Boyle saw—and still occasionally sees—Artest following the incident he would occasionally joke with the former Pacer about sending him a medical bill.

And that’s all it is; a joke. Boyle for his part still appears quite affectionate toward Artest.

“For all his quirks, he’s a really nice, caring person,” Boyle said.

Read more interesting takes from the life of Mark Boyle in this weekend’s IBJ Interview Issue. You can also read my question-and-answer interviews with veteran motorsports reporter Robin Miller, Indiana Fever Coach Stephanie White, Lucas Oil Products Co. founder Forrest Lucas and WTTV-TV Channel 4 anchor Debbie Knox.

In all 33 of the area’s most intriguing people will be featured in the issue. I hope you learn as many fascinating things about these folks as I have in the last few weeks.


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