The New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns were both enjoying excellent seasons when they squared off 27 years ago today. A marquee matchup devolved into a melee, though, shortly before halftime. Kevin Johnson and Doc Rivers had been giving each other the business for a few possessions and tensions were high. Appeals to the better angels of their nature went unanswered and Rivers took things up a notch when he set a hard, moving screen on Johnson after a dribble handoff to John Starks.
With the dam broken, total chaos ensued. Danny Ainge joined the fray, getting Rivers in a brief headlock. A cavalcade of players was able to break up the initial fracas. Then Greg Anthony, who was sidelined and in street clothes, got ahold of Johnson with what can be fairly called a suckerpunch. Pat Riley found himself in a dogpile. Suit jackets and pants were ripped.
An over-excited Willem Dafoe would describe it as AR-MAH-GED-DON!
The NBA came down with an iron fist, handing out 21 suspensions totaling $160,000, which was the biggest purse-string pull of all-time at that point. It also set a precedent that players leaving the bench during a fight would be punished. In this case, the 14 who joined in were fined $500 each. Over time, the league moved toward levying suspensions.
And that helped make scenes like this more rare. Yes, there was the Knicks-Heat playoff donnybrook and the Malice at the Palace. But those are outliers.
It's sort of incredible to realize what happened to the main characters in this story. Kevin Johnson became mayor of Sacramento, Doc Rivers is a decorated coach, who worked with general manager Danny Ainge in Boston. Greg Anthony and Charles Barkley both scored high-profile broadcasting gigs.
Dan Majerle would become my personal favorite basketball player, which many would say is the highest honor.
The brawl did little to derail the momentum of either team. New York would lose to Michael Jordan's Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals and Phoenix would be slayed in the Finals. If only either had tried full-on assault, things may have been different.