Remember the good old days of the National Basketball Association? Remember when players used to hate each other and fight each other?
As I'm watching what has been a fairly decent NBA playoffs wind down to a close, I can't help but reminisce about the good old days when the playoffs carried the same amount of menace as a UFC fight.
The thing I hate the most about the league today is the fact that the players are too damn chummy with each other. I understand that, with the advent of free agency, a player can end up on the same team as the guy who tried to separate his teeth from his mouth last season but that goes with the territory.
In Major League Baseball, this happens all the time. A pitcher may go to a team that has the same guy that took a swing at him after he hit him in the shin with a fastball a year earlier (and started a dugout-clearing brawl in the process).
But in the NBA, guys are way too friendly with each other. There's too much hugging going on before and after the games.
Look, if I want to see an NBA player hugging and petting on another guy, I'll just wait for John Amaechi to release a sextape. Maybe I'm a bit nostalgic at the moment but I really miss the old NBA.
The league will never be better than it was from 1979 until 1993. These were the glory years. You had some PHENOMENAL teams back then:
1. The glitzy "Showtime" Los Angeles Lakers with Magic, Kareem, and James Worthy.
2. The blue-collar Boston Celtics with Larry Legend, Kevin McHale,and "the Chief" Robert Parrish.
3. The badass Philadelphia 76ers with "The Doctor" Julius Erving & Moses Malone.
4. The Detroit Pistons, affectionately known as "The Bad Boys" and led by Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer.
5. The Chicago Bulls led by "His Airness" Michael Jordan.
These were the five teams that won the title during the 14 year period from 79-93. These five teams are five of the 10 best teams in the 60-plus-year history of the NBA.
Not only were these teams great because of their talent, they were great because they would literally kick your ass. They had to because the level of talent in the league during that time was astounding.
The Atlanta Hawks had Dominique Wilkins and Spud Webb, the Dallas Mavericks had Rolando Blackman and Fat Lever, the Indiana Pacers had loudmouths Reggie Miller and "The Rifleman" Chuck Person, the Utah Jazz had John Stockton and Karl Malone, the Portland Trailblazers had Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter, the Phoenix Suns had Kevin Johnson and Tom Chambers, the New York Knicks had Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley, the Cleveland Cavaliers had Mark Price and Brad Daughtery, and the Golden State Warriors had Run TMC (Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin).
And the playoff battles were so physical and so intense that I was practically hyperventilating by the time the games started.
Who can forget the legendary battles between the Lakers and the Celtics, the Celtics and the Pistons, the Pistons and the Bulls, or the Bulls and the Knicks (just to name a few).
Back then, commissioner David Stern and his motley crew of officials weren't trying to emasculate the players by endlessly calling technical and flagrant fouls for minor infractions (like they do today) and eroding the physical competitiveness of the league.
Back then the referees got out of the way and let them play. For example, in Game 3 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, Larry Bird grabbed an offensive rebound and when up for a shot.
Bill Laimbeer (one of the greatest villains in the history of American sports) made no attempt to block Bird's shot. Instead, he delivered a WWF-style clothesline to Bird's throat which immediately started a bench-clearing brawl.
Bird was so angry that he waited until he got a good shot at Laimbeer and fired the ball at him so hard that it made Roger Clemens blush. Both players were ejected but they were not suspended.
If this would've happened today Bird and Laimbeer would be suspended for at least 5 games.
Two games later, Robert Parish went up to Laimbeer and delivered a flurry of punches to his skull (much to the delight of the Celtic fans). This was payback for Laimbeer's attack on Bird. Not only was Parish not ejected, HE WAS NOT EVEN CALLED FOR A FOUL!
What made all of these battles so great is that there was a sense of danger in the air. You (the viewer) had no idea what would happen. The tensions and the hatred these teams had for each other was off the charts.
In the Michael Jordan video, "Air Time", his Airness talks about his playoff battles with Ewing and the Knicks. During the interview he said that although Ewing was one of his best friends he was more than ready to "go to blows with him."
If LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or Dwayne Wade said these exact same words today David Stern would have a heart attack. This is because the league is terrified of a repeat of two undeniably ugly fights:
1. The Kermit Washington "punch" to Rudy Tomjanovich
2. "The Malice at the Palace" fight between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons
Yes, those were two of the worst incidents in sports history. I watched the Pacers/Pistons fight live as it happened on TNT and it was quite scary. I understand that you don't want a replay of the Kermit Washington punch (Rudy T. almost died).
And yes, I understand that its probably not a good idea to have black players run up into the stands and punch white customers as it happened in Detroit but there's something that I wish Stern would understand.
Those two tragic events were freak accidents:
1. The circumstances surrounding the Kermit Washington punch will never happen again. Washington, at the time, was probably the strongest player in the league.
Tomjanovich was running toward him to break up a fight between Washington, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Rudy T.'s teammate Kevin Kunnert.
Washington caught him coming from the corner of his eye and instinctively turned and swung with everything he had. Rudy was blazing down the court at full speed.
The force of Washington's punch combined with the speed of Rudy T. produced something unseen in the history of professional sports. Washington cracked Rudy right underneath his nose which launched the Houston Rocket backwards and he landed on his head with a vicious thump.
Rudy's face was shattered, his brain was leaking spinal fluid, and he was rushed to the emergency room where he would stay in the ICU and endure through several surgeries that were required in order to fix his face, fix his broken jaw, and to realign his skull.
As horrifying as it was, it was a freak accident. Think about it. In the 100-plus years of professional sports in America, we've only seen something like that once.
2. As far as the "Malice at the Palace" is concerned, let's look at the factors involved.
a. Two clinically insane players, Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson (I'm not psychologist by the way but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express).
b. a hard-core, blue-collar city (Detroit)
Wait, what the hell am I talking about?
Oh course this can happen again!!!
At any rate, the combination of David Stern's excessive policing and the love-fest of today's NBA players has taken quite a bit of the nastiness out of this sport.
And because I really miss the old days, I'm going to list my favorite NBA fights of all-time, in no particular order (excluding the two I just mentioned).
1. Julius Erving vs. Larry Bird: Two of the league's marquee players shocked everybody back in 1984 when they reenacted the Apollo Creed/Rocky Balboa fight from Rocky II.
2. Bill Laimbeer vs. Bird: Mentioned this one early. Loved this fight. Laimbeer was such a dirty little bastard.
3. JoJo English vs. Derek Harper: In the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, English and Harper spilled into the stands. I don't remember exactly how it started but it was a nasty one. And for added comedic value it all happened right in front of a very nervous looking David Stern.
4. Laimbeer vs. Charles Barkley (1990): Two of the meanest dudes in the league went at it during the first round of the 1990 playoffs. Both players were fined $20,000, the largest fine (at the time) in NBA history.
5. Phoenix Suns (and current Sacramento mayor) Kevin Johnson vs. Doc Rivers: Johnson, a mild-mannered guy and Doc, a mild-mannered guy both went at it back in 93 (when Doc was playing for the Knicks, a team so violent that it needed a parole officer's permission to play games outside the state of New York). This Knicks team had the bruising Charles Oakley and two of the ugliest, most intimidating players ever, Xavier McDaniel and Anthony Mason, who came flying off the bench (IN STREET CLOTHES!) to take a few swings at KJ.
6. Charlie Ward vs. P.J. Brown: While fighting for position for a rebound, nice guy Brown picks up nice guy Ward and body slams him to the floor leading to a bench-clearing riot. This was too funny. Unless of course you were a Knicks fan since David Stern damn near suspended every Knick player for leaving the bench costing them their playoff series against the Miami Heat.
7. Alonzo Mourning vs. Larry Johnson: The funniest fight in the history of professional sports. Zo and LJ both combined to throw about 1,400 punches. None of them landed. The "fight" ended sometime shortly after Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy grabbed onto Mourning's leg while Zo desperately tried to shake him loose. Was this an actual NBA fight or a Saturday Night Live skit??
8. Shaquille O'Neal vs. Barkley: Barkley nailed Shaq in the head with the basketball and the two went at it. I gotta give "Sir" Charles credit. It takes man-parts the size of watermelons to "want" to start a fight with Shaq.
9. Bonzi Wells vs. Chris Mills: Remember when the Portland Trailblazers were referred to as the Jailblazers? That team had more felons than San Quentin. Well one of them was good ol' Bonzi who got into it with Golden State Warrior Chris Mills. This one was so crazy that Mills tried to get a piece of Bonzi in the locker room. After he failed at that, he rounded up his "boys" and parked his car in front of Portland's team bus.
The NBA: Where potential gang violence happens!!!
10. The Denver Nuggets vs. The New York Knicks: The Knicks (yet again) make the list. This was three years ago and it was the last great fight in the NBA. The Nuggets were literally embarrassing the Knicks in a blowout game. Then, Isiah Thomas whispered into Carmelo Anthony's ear that it would be wise to avoid going into the lane. Unfortunately nobody told J.R. Smith who was tackled by Mardy Collins leading to a full-scale battle royale. This fight had it all: a midget (Nate Robinson), a backpedaling sucker-puncher (Anthony), and a Madison Square Garden crowd that was practically egging them on.
Ah, yes. The good old days. Back when the playoffs were intense, the rivalries were intense, and the players didn't hesitate to punch you in the face. In fact I miss the old days so much that I'm going to go to the basketball court right now.
Who knows, maybe I'll even start a fight.
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