April 19, 2011
Ron Artest was certainly not the first NBA player to get into a scrape with a fan in Detroit. In fact, it happened 21 years ago today with Charles Barkley as the culprit. The NBA didn’t freak out and render an absurd knee-jerk reaction to it then. In fact, they almost certainly went too light on the players involved, doling out mere one game suspensions and $162,000 total in fines. Here’s Jack McCallum in a 1990 article in SI.
Barkley charged at Laimbeer and landed a couple of punches, including one to Laimbeer’s left eye.
Both benches then cleared, and soon players were grabbing one another and falling to the floor.Detroit reserve forward Scott Hastings landed what referee Jake O’Donnell later called a “sucker punch” on Barkley’s back as bodies rolled around the floor. Mahorn, meanwhile, stayed on the fringe of the melee, at one point severely testing the elasticity of James Edwards’s Piston jersey when he pulled Edwards away from the pile. Mahorn and Edwards are close friends—Barkley would say later that “Rick hates everybody on that team except Vinnie [Johnson] and Edwards”—but as Edwards’s scowl indicated, he didn’t appreciate Mahorn’s attention.
After order was restored and the game was finished—the 76ers won 107-97—several players called the fight, which lasted about 10 minutes, the worst they had seen in the NBA, though no one was hurt. Rod Thorn, the league’s vice-president of operations, said after reviewing the videotape last Friday morning that it was one of the worst fights in his four years as the NBA’s chief disciplinarian.
Laimbeer, Hastings and Barkley were ejected. As Barkley was led up the tunnel to the locker room, a fan leaned over and took a swing at him. Barkley retaliated by spitting in his face.
You gotta love Charles’s honesty. After the game, he said, “I don’t care if I get fined. I make $3 million. What’s a couple thousand dollars?”
The game seemed to light a fire under the Pistons. It concluded a 14 game stretch in which they had gone 6-8. After the fight, they would go 17-5, winning the NBA Championship by knocking off the Trail Blazers. The Sixers, meanwhile, fizzled, falling to Jordan and the Bulls in the 2nd round of the playoffs, 4 games to 1.