In a recent game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns, a fight broke out. Suns guard, Tyler Ulis, and Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope bumped into each other following a timeout. Caldwell-Pope, the ex-savior of the Detroit Pistons (a role that has since been filled by Luke Kennard) took offense to Ulis’ contact, pushing him away and inciting a scuffle. Scuffles like this are common in the NBA and typically involve a handful and technicals fouls and sometimes an ejection. They are talked about for a day or so and then disappear.
This fight, however, has gained traction in the media due to the Lakers’ young star Lonzo Ball. Lonzo, who has displayed excellent court presence thus far (7 a.p.g. through the first 17 games), walked past the fight. Watching it escalate, he turned towards the bench, wiped his face with his jersey, and walked away. During his postgame interview, when asked about the fight, he responded, “It’s the N.B.A. People ain’t really gonna fight. I ain’t trying to get no tech.”
First, I have so many issues with his lack of willingness to back up his teammates in a fight. I understand his awareness of the situation and wanting to not get a technical foul, but in the course of a season, teammate chemistry is more important than dropping one game early on. Instead of delving into this issue, however, I will instead look at how incredibly wrong he is in saying, “It’s the N.B.A. People ain’t really gonna fight.” Clearly Lonzo is not very educated in the N.B.A. fights department, so I will unpack a few fights so none of you make his same mistake.
First, Larry Bird vs. Julius Erving. In a 1984 game between the Sixers and the Celtics, Larry Bird, a player known for his scrappiness and trash-talk, got wrapped up with Dr. J, the smoothest man to ever play basketball. Dr. J knocked Bird on the ground, which obviously Bird would not allow to go unpunished. A slew of players from both sides convened at center court, as is the case with most scuffles. Seemingly lost in the confusion, Charles Barkley, who now claims to have been trying to break up the fight, held Bird back, rendering him defenseless and allowing Dr. J to repeatedly punch him in the face. So, I ask you Lonzo, do N.B.A. players not fight?
Now one could make the case that Larry Legend is invincible. One could also make the case that as violent as an N.B.A. fight may seem, it quickly breaks up and everyone is ultimately safe. So, to show how wrong this is, we will look at Kermit Washington and Rudy Tomjanovich. During the 1977-78 season, a fight broke out between the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was a chaotic mess, as many N.B.A. fights are. Rudy Tomjanovich, a man who at the time was known around the N.B.A. as a peaceful player, was rushing to the aid of one of his teammates. Kermit Washington, a hefty 6’ 8” inch man, was standing by and saw the Rockets’ Tomjanovich out of the corner of his eye. Seeing a player from the other team rushing over, he naturally spun and nailed an unsuspecting Tomjanovich square in the face. He immediately hit the floor. Fans attending this game claim a silence immediately fell over the entire arena, something almost unheard of in professional sports.
Tomjanovich laid there unconscious in a pool of blood. He was soon revived and walked off the court. Many are still unsure how he managed this considering his jaw and nose were broken, he had a severe concussion, his skull was dislocated, and he was leaking both blood and spinal fluid into his skull. He recalls being able to taste the spinal fluid in his mouth. Medical professionals were surprised that he was even still alive. This fight ruined Tomjanovich’s playing career. Fortunately, however, he found a place as a successful coach following his early retirement. Does this count as enough of a real fight, Lonzo?
Now I understand that these fights took place a long time ago in what some consider a different N.B.A. So, finally, we will look at a truly iconic fight, The Malice at the Palace. I truly cannot do this fight justice here, so I encourage you to look it up and watch it. Anyways, during a 2004 game between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers, Ben Wallace was fouled from behind by Ron Artest with 45 seconds left in a game the Pacers had already easily won.
Wallace turned and shoved Artest, causing the classic quickly broken up N.B.A. scuffle Lonzo speaks of. The teams gathered at center court, tensions defused, and Artest walked away, laying down on the scorer’s table. The fight was over. Then, a wise fan decided to poke the beast, throwing his beer down a few rows of seats onto Artest’s chest. Artest, understandably enraged, charged into the crowd, assaulting fans and wreaking havoc. Fans and players fought with players. Fans and players were suspended. The rule banning alcohol sales after the third quarter was implemented. Many things happened as a result, such as the weird and fascinating semi-downfall of Ron Artest/Metta World Peace. It was truly an interesting fight, and perhaps one of the most impactful fights in regards to N.B.A. reaction.
So, Lonzo Ball is wrong. Fights happen in the N.B.A. Some of them are hilarious and bring out never before seen sides of players. Others of them are horrific and show the terribly ugly side of sports and mankind. These fights happened a long time ago, but it is still unwise for Lonzo, someone who already has an enormous target on his back, to make what some would claim is a bash against the N.B.A.’s lack of ability and toughness to fight a Lonzo Ball-calibre fight. More importantly, maybe next time he will decide that his teammates do matter and he will go and stand up for them.