In the decade of Magic versus Bird, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics were responsible for three of four NBA titles from 1980 to 1983. In 1984, the two franchises met in the first of three NBA Finals match-ups.
The two teams provided fans with several memorable moments in their three championship competitions. However, Game 4 of the '84 finals provided the most controversial event.
After Los Angeles took Game 1 at the Boston Garden, the Celtics won Game 2 in overtime. As the series moved to the Great Western Forum, Los Angeles scored 137 points in a 33-point rout to take a 2-games-to-1 lead.
Trailing in the series and the game, 76-70, with seven minutes remaining in Game 4, the Celtics faced the prospect of heading back to Boston needing to win three straight for the title.
Sometimes in basketball, a game-changing moment can be a slam dunk, a three-point field goal or a blocked shot. In this case the moment that changed not only the game but the entire series was one of the most controversial fouls in NBA Finals history.
As Lakers forward Kurt Rambis went up for a layup, he was clotheslined by the Celtics Kevin McHale, causing Rambis to hit the floor hard. After getting back on his feet, Rambis was ready for a fight, but he was shoved to the ground by teammate James Worthy.
Now just imagine if McHale had clotheslined Rambis today. He would have been ejected, most likely suspended for at least one game and fined. Fans would be commenting on Facebook and Twitter about how McHale is a dirty player, and the play would be discussed endlessly on ESPN and sports talk radio. In 1984, however, It may be hard to believe, but McHale only received a foul for his actions.
The Lakers' Andrew Bynum was ejected, fined $25,000 and suspended five games for his flagrant foul on Dallas’s J.J. Barea in this year’s Western Conference Finals.
While the Los Angeles team was angry in '84, the play changed the entire course of the series.
Boston eventually forced overtime and tied the series at two with a 129-125 win. The Celtics returned home and claimed an 18-point victory. After the Lakers kept the series alive with a Game 6 win, the Celtics claimed the title on the parquet floor of the Garden with a 111-102 triumph. With the win, Boston improved to 8-0 in the NBA finals against the Lakers.
Ironically, Rambis would get a measure of revenge 25 years later.
After posting a 24-58 record as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009, McHale was informed that he would not be returning as head coach. His replacement turned out to be, of course, Rambis, who was an assistant coach with the Lakers at the time.