1983-84 Boston Celtics
This was right out of Syracuse or Fort Wayne, circa 1955: The Celtics and a hated rival in a free-for-all with Red Auerbach in the middle, taunting the enemy's big man by taking off his glasses and saying, "Go ahead, hit me you big SOB."
Instead of Bob Brannum, Jim Loscutoff and Co., this was Larry Bird, Cedric Maxwell and the 1983-84 Celtics exploding in a preseason barroom brawl against the hated Philadelphia 76ers. When the last of three altercations was over, Larry Bird, Gerald Henderson and Marc Iavaroni had been ejected, Philadelphia coach Billy Cunningham had picked up a technical foul and a ripped sports jacket, and Moses Malone was wondering what would have happened if he had taken a swing at Auerbach.
Needless to say, the crowd loved every minute of it. Oh yes, the Celtics won, 99-86, improving their preseason record to 4-1. It was one of those nights when the Celtics wished they still had Rick Robey. Less than four minutes into what should have been a harmless exhibition game, there had already been two bench-clearing fights and Dennis Johnson must have been wondering what he'd gotten into here. Certainly the Phoenix Suns never went through anything like this during the exhibition season.
The fireworks started with 9:37 left in the first quarter when Maxwell and Malone got into a scuffle underneath the Sixers' basket. Max came up with a loose ball and was pushed by Malone. Maxwell backed off and fired the ball off Malone's shoulder. Malone went for Maxwell and the pair collapsed to the floor. Predictably, the benches emptied and when order was restored, Max was smiling and Malone was snarling. Malone was tagged with a personal foul and Maxwell picked up a technical.
A minute later, Marc Iavaroni grabbed Maxwell under the Celtics' basket while both were going for a rebound. A foul was called elsewhere and Robert Parish stepped to the line. Larry Bird and Iavaroni were jawing at the foul line and after Parish's second free throw went in, Bird and Iavaroni were toe- to-toe, slugging it out. This time it got out of hand. Both benches emptied and Bird, who was being restrained by K.C. Jones and a couple of teammates, wanted more of Iavaroni. At one point he lunged forward and hacked at Cunningham. Cunningham got hot and had to be restrained. Billy C's sports coat was in tatters after the skirmish.
When it appeared that things had calmed, scab referees Ralph Lembo and Jesse Hall informed both sides that Bird and Iavaroni had been ejected. Next thing you know, Auerbach (from Loge 1, Row 6, Seat 1) was screaming at the officials. Recognizing the old "get-their-star-out-of-the-game-with-a-cheap-shot" trick, Auerbach came out, crossed the court and implored the officials to let Bird back in. Sensing that he might lose to a higher god, Cunningham tried to stop Auerbach, then jawed with Red and the officials. The scene got sillier when Malone and Auerbach started screaming at each other.
Finally, Iavaroni and Bird exited, a police detail was summoned to sit behind the Philadelphia bench and the game resumed with the Celtics leading, 11-7, with 8:20 left in the period. The rest of the half was pretty tame and the Bird-less Celtics went into the locker room with a 50-46 lead. In the third quarter, Henderson was ejected for punching Philly rookie Sedale Threatt. "The guy hit me with an elbow in the throat," said Henderson. "There was no call, and I'm sorry, but I had to hit the guy." Henderson got the heave and Cunningham picked up a technical foul for grabbing the basketball and refusing to give it back.
"After the Henderson punch," said Maxwell, "I thought it might be the first game in NBA history to be called because of violence." It wasn't. The Celtics never trailed after 2-0 and were paced by Kevin McHale (20 points, 14 rebounds) and Scott Wedman (18 points). They'll meet the Sixers again Wednesday night in Chattanooga, Tenn.