The 13 most memorable individual altercations in sports, Part One

When I first heard that Jerry Sloan, long time coach of the Utah Jazz, had retired due to an alleged altercation with point guard Deron Williams (which inadvertently led to both of them leaving Utah), I was immediately taken by surprise, even though we all know Coach Sloan never met a fight he didn’t like.

Shortly after hearing the news, I sent out a mass email to the SportsChump faithful, asking everyone to send me their suggestions for the greatest individual feuds in recent sports memory.  I received an overwhelming response.

However, when everyone included Bird-Magic and Ali-Frazier in their responses,  I soon realized the subtle difference between feud and altercation, which was more what I was getting at.  While those rivalries defined modern sport, I was looking for specific instances or moments in sports when two guys, or girls, provided us with a ‘what the hell just happened and why can’t we all get along’ moment.

So without further ado, here are my own most memorable, individual altercations in sports.

13 – Alonzo Mourning vs. Larry Johnson

For the longest time, Johnson and Mourning were teammates on the Charlotte Hornets.  Along with Mugsy Bogues and Kendall Gill, they put that expansion team on the map.  This was years before the Hornets moved from New Orleans to Oklahoma City and then back to New Orleans again.

At the time, Zo and LJ appeared the best of friends but behind closed doors, this wasn’t the case.

In 1996, after Charlotte proved to be not big enough for the two of them, Zo was traded to the Heat and Johnson was sent to New York, setting the stage for an infamous NBA brawl only two seasons later.

The two got tangled up in Game Five of the Knicks-Heat playoff series and decided they had finally had enough of each other.  When you consider that Alonzo stands seven-feet tall and LJ is about 6-foot-10, this had all the makings of a championship bout, even though neither giant could land a punch.

The fight is, of course, most memorable for Jeff Van Gundy wrapping himself around Alonzo’s shins in an attempt to break up the fight and of course his unkempt comb-over as he emerged from the fracas.

12 – Shaquille O’Neal vs. Kobe Bryant

Even though these two former teammates and league MVPs never came to blows (the actual tussle between Shaq and Barkley was infinitely more entertaining), the Shaq and Kobe feud got pretty contested verbally, so I’ll include this altercation, yet accompany it with an asterisk.  Although no punches were thrown, at one point or another over the years, both probably wanted to.

In 2008, Kobe’s Los Angeles Lakers had just lost in the Finals to the Boston Celtics.  After winning a title with Dwyane Wade in Miami two years earlier, Shaquille (at the time) had one more ring than Kobe.

During an impromptu rap at a New York City night club, Shaq went all 8 Mile on the Mamba, telling him to “tell him how his ass tastes,” ranking right up there as one of sports more memorable, yet atonal, eff yous.

Of course we all know Kobe had the last laugh, winning two more rings in Los Angeles without his former sidekick and probably selling just as many rap albums.

11 – Buddy Ryan vs. Kevin Gilbride

I live in Florida so I know the elderly have a tendency to get a little testy.  But when a sixty-year old Buddy Ryan slugged offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride on the sidelines of a Jets-Oilers game, well, let’s just say most watching did a double-take.

Ryan’s defense had been pitching a shutout until Gilbride’s offense threatened that by turning the ball over just before halftime.  What did they expect?  Cody Carlson was their quarterback.

Let’s just say it looked like someone had taken the last crab cake off the early bird buffet because Ryan went vertical – as vertical as a sixty-year old man can – landing a shot on Gilbride’s jaw and reminding us all where his Buddy’s son Rex gets his combustible personality.

10 – Roger Clemens vs. Mike Piazza

This was another totally bizarre occurrence for anyone watching this World Series but knowing what we know now about the effect of steroids, throwing a half-broken bat at someone, then explaining that it was the ball, makes perfect sense for someone with ‘roid rage… allegedly.

Funny thing was, I was an unabashed Red Sox apologist back then and even though Clemens was wearing pinstripes at the time, I can remember defending him until I was blue in the face.  Deep down inside, however, I knew that in all my years of playing baseball, I never confused a bat for a ball.

Both benches cleared but no punches were thrown even though this was another time everyone watching secretly wishes there were.


9 – Jason Varitek vs. Alex Rodriguez/Pedro Martinez vs. Don Zimmer

In keeping with the Red Sox theme, if there were ever two specific altercations that defined the century-old bitterness of a sports rivalry, it would be Jason Varitek ‘mitting’ Alex Rodriguez (no, he wasn’t feeding him popcorn) and Pedro Martinez throwing a charging, and significantly older, Don Zimmer to the turf.

At that point in time (2003), ARod was baseball’s golden boy, its several hundred million dollar man.  Nobody ever messed with him… until Tek.  That one altercation occurring at home plate, plus the Zimmer throw-down that happened a year earlier, coincided with the Boston Red Sox finally overcoming their pinstripe inferiority complex that had haunted them since Babe Ruth skipped town in 1919.

These two incidents symbolized that Red Sox nation was not going to sit idly by while the Yankees continued their dominance, and even though most of us loved seeing ARod get smashed in the face, even though the most apologetic Red Sox fan found it hard to defend Pedro for treating the 73-year old Zimmer like a rag doll

Either way, these moments represented a changing of the guard, at least for a little while, as the Red Sox went on to win the World Series in 2004 and again in 2007.

8 – Jerry Sichting vs. Ralph Sampson

This throwdown was just weird.  A seven-foot-four black guy squaring off against a six-foot-one (allegedly) white guy.

In 1986, the Houston Rockets finagled their way into the NBA Finals on a miracle turn-around jump shot by Sampson, denying basketball fans the chance to watch another epic Lakers-Celtics series.

The fisticuffs took place in the second quarter of Game Five.  The considerably shorter Sichting was forced to cover the considerably larger Sampson on a switch.  Apparently, Sampson didn’t take too kindly to a guy half his size boxing him out and figured punches were the best way to retaliate.

That didn’t turn out too well for Sampson as he was eventually body-slammed to the floor by Bill Walton and ejected from the game.

The Celtics went on to win that series and things would never be the same for Sampson after that, for he could never shake the reputation of not picking on a guy his own size.

Jerry Sichting vs Ralph Sampson Fight (1986… by kevin-garnett123

7 – Robin Ventura vs. Nolan Ryan

This altercation might go down as one of the biggest mismatches in sports.  Let’s just say the old flamethrower got the better end of this deal.

It was back in 1993 when Robin Ventura, an up-and-coming all-star, disapproved of some high heat that Nolan threw his way.  In what can easily be considered one of the dumbest decisions of all time, Ventura charged the mound to retaliate, only to be immediately put in a headlock and be pummeled repeatedly by the elder statesman.

Ventura went on to have a respectable career but will always be better known for the day he got his ass kicked by one of the greatest pitchers of all time, who was also twenty years his senior.

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51 Replies to “The 13 most memorable individual altercations in sports, Part One”

  1. Sorry, but you missed a big one. When Bird punched out Bill Laimbeer right on the floor and didn’t get ejected. The shot of Laimbeer sitting on the bench with that “what did I do” look on his ugly puss was priceless.

  2. Pingback: The 13 most memorable individual altercations in sports, Part One, NBA | BallHyped Sports Blogs

  3. Because the Celtics have always been bad ass. From the moment Tommy Heinsohn became a Celtic, he instilled the official New Jersey state motto on the team. “Don’t take shit from anybody.”

  4. And if that doesn’t work, hit ’em over the head with a bottle of scotch.

    Are my Chumpeteers really gonna let Snake get away with this? Where are my Lakers, my Knicks, my Heat fans? It’s bleeding green in here.

    Speaking of Heat, Snake, how about that collapse last night?

    Mighty tasty if I do say so myself. Here’s the Heat’s next few games…

    @ San Antonio
    vs Chicago
    vs Portland
    vs Lakers
    vs Memphis
    vs San Antonio
    vs Oklahoma City
    @ Atlanta

    Not surprisingly, the Heat are 29th in the league in assists per game. They better get Bibby feeling that roster quick.

  5. This is good stuff Chris.

    Snake, wasn’t it Robert Parrish who punched out Laimbeer? Yeah, Tommy Heinsohn was a bad ass. He KO’d Walt Hazzard of the Lakers on an ABC game of the week.

    How ’bout tough guy KAJabbar running away from Dennis Autry? He couldn’t sucker-punch him ala Kent Benson.

    Looking forward to the rest Chris.

  6. Don’t know what’s wrong with us that these incidents are so much fun. Getting my blood up just thinking about ’em. Greatest part of Sichting v Sampson was I remember Sampson cursing on nat’l TV in the locker room interview after they bounced him. Was watching w/ my dad and about died. Ahh, innocence… mine, I mean! Ralph had no biz swinging at that little man!

  7. The Heat SUCK!!! Even Austin Rivers called out Lebron James. Big time finishers. I think Dan Gilbert was right saying that The Cavs would a title before the Heat.

  8. Thanks, RB.

    There are some good ones remaining, although I think the Top Six are pretty obvious.

    I know I’m dating myself by excluding some of the more celebrated fisticuffs that occurred earlier on, but I think aside from the brawls themselves, the stage they took place on affects their gravity.

    And who exactly DIDN’T Laimbeer get into a fight with?

  9. Austin Rivers, Snake?

    Doc’s kid?

    Calling out LeBron?

    He’s a high school senior! Who cares what he has to say, even if he is the number one recruit in the nation (who dissed Billy Donovan too, by the way).

    What next? The E-Trade babies calling out LeBron?

  10. How about Danny Ainge and Tree Rollins and a little biting incident? Also I second that Chris. EVERYBODY hit Laimbeer at one time or another.

  11. Very nice, Dub.

    You’re right. I didn’t have that on my list.

    I didn’t include any hockey on my Top 13 because a) I’m not a hockey fan (so sue me) and b) on any given night in the NHL, we’ll find a fistfight that will make all these others pale in comparison.

    Besides, I’m a lover, not a fighter.

  12. Scrappy bunch, those Celtics of old, Snake.

    Personally, I’m dying for a good knock-down, drag-out fight in the NBA playoffs.

    We are LONG overdue.

  13. Chris………..This is my favorite article you’ve ever written. I can’t wait for the rest….too funny!

  14. Glad you liked it, SuperCarrier. According to my latest numbers, apparently so did the rest of the internet.

    I guess violence still sells, huh?

  15. Is this only for American sports? If not I think you should include Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Final and maybe Eric Cantona’s “Kung-fu” kick on a Crystal Palace fan back in 1995.

  16. Todd….

    Hmmmm, I may have to look that one up. Rodman certainly had a way of getting under one’s skin.

    And Buck was never one to back down from a good scuffle.

  17. Chris

    The memorable Knicks’ Heat altercation will go down in infamy. Especially where Jeff Van Gundy grabs Zo’s ( Alonzo Mourning) ankles in trying to stop him in going after Starks .

    And how bout Spree’s choking of P J Carlissimo ?

    And I don’t know if you’d call Tyson taking a bite out of Evander’s ear an altercation but what went on before and after the incident should count don’t you think ?

    Hooray for the Heat ……………. a team with no heart and all the excuses in the world coming from D Wade , Bosh and James ! What’s next after that mauling from the Magic ?

    If the Knicks were on the Cavaliers’ schedule 82 times a year would that make the team automatically contenders for an NBA title ? What’s that now twice the Knicks have been beaten by the Cavs since ‘melo’s arrival ? LOL,LOL LOL !!!

    tophatal …………

  18. Chris

    I’m sorry what’s next for the Heat oh that ……. 30 point a_s kicking courtesy of my beloved San Antonio Spurs . It says something when Matt Bonner can make the Heat’s illustrious trio seem like shop window mannequins during a game don’t you think ?

    tophatal …………

  19. You guys are good. Al (maybe) nailed two of the remaining six in one fell swoop. What’s wrong? Don’t you guys like surprises?

    I’m not sure what the deal is with the Knicks and the Cavs, Al. The Knicks had that game, just got lazy.

    And that Heat-Spurs game was a clinic, I’m sure to your delight.

  20. You know me, Al. I love me some Bonner and am glad to see he’s found such a comfortable home in San Antonio for so long.

    Big guys who can bang and who also have range can be dangerous weapons in the league if used properly… and that’s exactly what Pop does with Matty B.

  21. Chris

    There were a couple more that I could’ve chimed in with but I had one two many brewskies with a friend who’s just come back from deployment in Iraq so you can understand if I wasn’t fully cognizant ?

    Great win for the Spurs over the Heat but then they fell back to earth with that loss to the Lakers .

    So Kevin Love equaled Moses Malone’s record for double-doubles in a season with 50 ? Five more and he equals the record for a season tally but at the same time the Wolves are losing more games than Charlie Sheen is said to be losing credibility . LOL,LOL,LOL !!!


  22. Chris

    The only person who could’ve been more clinical than the Spurs woul’ve been either cardio thoracic surgeon or a neuro surgeon !

    A friend and I were discussing the ’99 NFL Draft when Couch went #1 overall ahead of McNabb . But do you remember what was the main story from that draft ? Ditka giving up all of the Saints’ picks to get Ricky Williams . I still think was the dumbest move ever made by a coach in the NFL as it set the organization back almost a decade.

    All I can remember from that was Ricky in wedding dress ……….. Ditka dreadlocked and that pretty much summed up the relationship and the idiocy of the move as Williams wasted two years there and it pretty much ended Ditka’s coaching career. LOL,LOL,LOL !!! I wonder if we’ll ever see that ever happen again within an NFL Draft ?

    tophatal …………….

  23. Factual correction:
    LJ is not 6’10, not even close; he is listed at 6’7. Zo is also not a 7-footer, he is listed at 6’10. (both numbers from
    Doesn’t change mucht about the brawl, but I felt the need to chime in.

  24. Al…

    Stay tuned. Part Deux (that’s French, right?) should grace the airwaves tomorrow. There’s a big one that everyone’s forgetting. Two actually.

    The Heat, Al, well… they stink. Or they don’t stink but they’re spectacularly ordinary, which has to be depressing for season ticket holders considering the talent they have on the roster. Tell me a healthy Haslem wouldn’t help things.

    They’ll ride this one out with Spoelstra, but a first round exit will turn up the heat on the Heat even more.

    I’ll have my take on Kevin Love, and how he compares to a particular monster rebounder of the past, coming up in the second to next post.

  25. Al…

    I saw plenty of Couch at UK. The kid put up sick numbers but most of us knew those were inflated. That pick set the Brownies back a few years. I think NFL teams are picking and prodding their franchise quarterbacks a little more closely now.

    Heck, even Jets fans booed when their team picked McNabb, but then again, when don’t they boo?

    At least the Saints eventually got over that Ricky Williams pick but they still love him in Miami. Don’t forget he had 11 touchdowns and over 1100 yards rushing in 2009.

  26. First of all, Johnny K, thanks for reading.

    Second of all, let’s agree that neither of us would want to tussle with those guys.

    ‘Zo might not be seven feet tall but he sure played like it. I’ll tell you what. I’ll turn his two Defensive Player of the Year trophies into inches and add them to his 6’10” frame to make him seven foot tall.

    And LJ, well, let’s just say he played like 6’10” at UNLV and was a pretty solid back-to-the-basket player in the Association, the kind the NBA has lost these days.

    But thanks for paying enough attention.

  27. Al…

    I couldn’t disagree more with your Bradley-Bonner comparison.

    First of all, Bonner wasn’t really a center at Florida and he always had infinitely better of an outside shot than Bradley.

    Bradley was a freak of nature. The Sixers drafted him second overall. Bonner was an afterthought.

    But as usual, Pop knows his stuff and found himself a smart, talented, well-rounded player to help build a few championship teams.

  28. Pingback: Sports Chump » The 13 most memorable individual altercations in sports, Part Two

  29. You definitely missed the pacers pistons brawl a couple years back….i really have no idea how you missed that one but you did and that was arguably the most entertaining of any of these “altercations.”
    Just Saying

  30. shaq was kobe’s sidekick? kobe’s lucky he had shaq to win him those championships.

  31. Ok, Nick.

    I’ll bite.

    How about they were one another’s side kick and were both quite lucky to have had each other during that time.

    Shaq was dominant, winning all three Finals MVPs but it was also Kobe’s coming out party.

    But let me ask you this. When it’s all said and done, who will go down as the better player?

  32. I’m gonna have to say that Shaq was Kobe’s counterpart. As opposed to sidekick. Just because Kobe wasn’t reliant on him (obviously, since he went on to win more without the big guy). I’m not a huge Kobe fan, despite my diehard Laker allegiance, but I respect him as a player. He’s got a lot in him.

  33. Shaq was Kobe’s sidekick? Really? I’m pretty sure it was the other way around.

  34. Look, gentlemen. Perhaps we should all look up the definition of ‘sidekick.’ I’m not so sure the word implies the Robin to Batman, Tonto to Lone Ranger relationship as we think.

    They were former teammates. Nobody is arguing Shaq wasn’t the A to Kobe’s B at that time. Shaq’s got the three consecutive Finals MVPs to prove that.

    Can we move on now?

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