Before I delve into Part Two of my most memorable altercations in recent sports memory, let me first say that we fans must be a bloodthirsty bunch. The previous post in this series brought a record amount of viewers to the Chump, meaning I’ll probably resort to posting a lot more blood and guts in the future.
I guess what it boils down to is this. With the NBA (No Brawls Allowed) and NFL (No Fun League) doling out suspensions for simply looking at another player the wrong way, it’s apparent we long for the days when an athlete’s passion meant there was always the potential for a good scuffle.
The NBA clothesline is a thing of the past. These days, professional athletes are all ‘friends.’ Perhaps that’s why we reminisce so fondly over a more primitive time when games didn’t come to a screeching halt at the first sign of bloodshed.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s continue with Part Two of the Most Memorable Altercations in Sports.
6 – John Calipari vs. John Chaney
We all know college basketball coaches are an animated bunch but there are meltdowns and then there are eruptions. On a February night in 1994, John Chaney showed us all he was not exempt from such behavior.
Nobody really likes John Calipari that much anyway, but this particular incident made us wonder what the hell Chaney was thinking going after a made guy.
The shouting match took place in at a 1994 press conference after a game between Chaney’s Temple Owls and Coach Cal’s UMass Minutemen. Apparently Chaney didn’t take too kindly to Calipari talking to the referees without him being involved. Well, Chaney got involved alright, taking matters into his own hands, threatening to kick Calipari’s ass and giving us a press conference they should have charged admission to.
5 – Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield
It’s a shame that Holyfield-Tyson II was the last heavyweight fight any of us can remember looking forward to. Believe it or not, it’s been fifteen years since Mike Tyson, bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear, in a single moment sparking the decline of both boxing’s heavyweight division and Tyson’s professional career.
I remember watching this fight over at a friend’s house. No disrespect to Evander but I was secretly hoping Tyson still had a little something left in the tank. He had already been through so much: the death of his coach, the public ridicule of Robin Givens and the epically surprising loss to the hands of Buster Douglas.
Tyson was getting beat up pretty good by Holyfield that night, who at that point was definitely the better boxer. Tyson got frustrated and decided to retaliate Hannibal Lechter-style.
Cameras panned to the piece of flesh on the canvas and announcers wondered aloud if it was Holyfield’s ear. It was. The referee temporarily stopped the fight, unaware that Holyfield was less of a man than a moment before, and allowed the boxers to continue. For a brief instant, it looked like we were in for a brawl.
Tyson then bit off another chunk, leaving Holyfield looking for a plastic surgeon and leaving us all stunned that Tyson could be any crazier than we originally thought.
4 – Latrell Sprewell vs. PJ Carlesimo
Deron Williams knew better than to come after Coach Sloan like Latrell Sprewell did his former coach. There’s nothing more embarrassing than having your ass kicked by a guy three times your age. See Robin Ventura.
The choke heard ‘round the nation happened back in 1997 when Latrell Sprewell was playing for the Golden State Warriors. During a practice, Spree didn’t take too kindly to Coach Carlesimo’s criticism of his efforts. End result? Spree’s hands, Coach’s neck and a reputation Spree could never shake.
Not coincidentally, Spree had his best season (24 ppg) the year BEFORE the incident. After accosting Carlesimo, Spree was suspended for the rest of 1997 and later traded to the Knicks. Even though he made it to the Finals with New York in 1999, his career was never the same after the day he assaulted PJ and PJ probably thought twice about berating any of his players.
3 – Rudy Tomjanovich vs. Kermit Washington
One punch defined a generation and changed the course of professional basketball forever.
It sent one player into embarrassed oblivion and shattered the face of another.
There is no better account of this December night in 1977 than John Feinstein’s “The Punch” in which he explains the evening in gory detail by interviewing seemingly everyone in the arena that night, including Washington, who had to be convinced to do the book.
Not before and certainly not since has there been a punch thrown as violent. To best summarize the hit, when Tomjanovich was taken to the hospital, he told the doctor he tasted blood in his mouth. The doctor told him it wasn’t blood, it was his spinal fluid.
Let’s move on, shall we?
2 – Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan
This may have been the moment in history when sports turned tabloid for good. And to think we have figure skating to blame.
We tend to forget about this incident now, probably because we’re all understandably trying to put it out of our memories, but this was HUGE news when it all went down.
It made household names out of guys like Jeff Gilooly and Shawn Eckardt and pretty much sealed Harding’s fate as a future reality TV show regular.
It was the 1994 Winter Olympics and Kerrigan, America’s darling, was the clear-cut favorite to win her events. That was until she was clubbed in the shins by Harding’s cronies, giving us a shrieking “Whyyyyyy” sound-bite for the ages.
So much for Olympic sportsmanship.
1 – Ron Artest vs. John Green
There are few indelible moments in sports where you remember exactly where you were when THIS happened. The Malice at the Palace was exactly one of those times.
I was living in Orlando, watching the game at a friend’s house. We even had action on that particular game. Of course, had we wagered on whether Ron Artest would have gone into the stands and beaten the tar out of a fan, we would have been set for life. Unfortunately, that bet wasn’t on the board.
It was a cold November night in Detroit, a city no stranger to riots, and the Pacers were handling the Pistons pretty good in their own building.
With only seconds left in the game, things started to get chippy when Ben Wallace and Ron Artest got into a shoving match. After referees stepped in to break up the fight, the then under-psychoanalyzed Artest went to lay on the scorer’s table.
It was then that a fan threw a soda that hit Artest in the chest and threw him, and everyone else in the arena, into a frenzy. Jermaine O’Neal was throwing roundhouses at any fan who rushed on to the court. Stephen Jackson accompanied Artest into the stands to beat up short, white people. Within minutes, the Palace had turned into a mosh pit and all the while, I sat watching like Ruby Dee shouting “Nooooooooooooooo!!!” at the end of “Do The Right Thing” as the cast burned down Sal’s Famous.
The fight was so captivating, I watched replays all night long, feeling dirty about doing so and wondering how Commissioner Stern would repair the image of the sport he tried so hard to keep unblemished. The answer? 86-game suspension for Artest, 30 games for Jackson and seven additional players suspended and fined.
While the Malice at the Palace might pale in comparison to the violence we see more regularly at Central American or European soccer matches (or even the NHL for that matter), it still ranks as one of the most dramatic moments in recent sports history.
Honorable mention: Bobby Knight vs. everyone, Reggie Miller vs. Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan vs. Steve Kerr (allegedly), Robert Horry’s towel vs. Danny Ainge’s face, the Detroit Piston ‘Bad Boys’ vs. every team in the league at the time, Kevin McHale vs. Kurt Rambis, Roberto Alomar vs. John Hirschbeck, Dennis Rodman vs. cameraman, Barry Bonds vs. Jeff Kemp, Tree Rollins vs. Danny Ainge, Larry Bird vs. Julius Erving, Juan Marichal vs. Johnny Roseboro, Reggie Jackson vs. Billy Martin, Carlton Fisk vs. Deion Sanders, Deion Sanders vs. Tim McCarver, Deion Sanders vs. Andre Rison, Zinedine Zidane vs. Marco Materazzi