Sportsmanship is often promoted by the NBA. Because of this, it is unusual for fights to break out on the NBA hardwood. However, given that basketball is a physical and competitive sport, it isn’t a surprise to see tempers flare. In fact, throughout the history of the league, we’ve seen various physical altercations that even escalated into an all-out brawl. For this piece, let’s rank the 10 biggest NBA fights of all time.
10. LeBron James and Isaiah Stewart
Early into the 2021-2022 season, the Lakers played the Pistons in Detroit. During the early part of the third quarter of the game, Jerami Grant had just made a free throw. While trying to box out for the potential miss, LeBron James looked to have swung an elbow that connected with Isaiah Stewart. Stewart would end up with blood around his right eye.
Angered by the strike, Stewart confronted the four-time NBA champion. After the players were separated, Stewart surprisingly made another attempt to charge at James. Fortunately, the coaches, security guards, and his teammates were able to get a hold of him.
Once the game concluded, James was sanctioned by the league with a one-game suspension, which was the first of his decorated career. On the other hand, Stewart was handed down a two game suspension and eight stitches for his wound.
9. Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller
Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller were two of the best shooting guards of their time. While the two stars engaged in an epic showdown in the 1998 playoffs, Jordan and Miller involved themselves in a physical scuffle in the 1992-1993 season. During the game, Miller cleaned up the missed lay-up by teammate Pooh Richardson. After successfully making the put-back in transition, Miller made the shove on Jordan. The eventual six-time NBA champion would chase Miller down the court and engage in a nose to nose confrontation and throw fists in one of the wildest NBA fights ever.
After the game, Jordan faced a one game suspension with a $10,000 fine. On the other hand, the league spared Miller of suspension but was fined $6,000.
8. Draymond Green and Jordan Poole
It is uncommon to see players fight physically in practice, especially against their own teammates. Green and Poole were just fresh off winning the NBA championship. Although winning a championship usually keeps a team’s bond stronger, it wasn’t the case for the Warriors.
In a leaked video released by TMZ, Green appeared to be mouthing words directed at Poole which led him to eventually confront his teammate. Poole would shove the versatile forward, while Green would retaliate with a punch that would send the former to the deck. The two teammates were forced to be separated by the attendees of the Warriors’ practice session.
No suspensions were handed out, despite Warriors coach Steve Kerr describing the situation as the biggest crisis the team has faced.
7. Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning
Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning were also once teammates. However, that didn’t show when the two threw haymakers at each other during an altercation in the 1998 postseason. Fortunately, the players, coaches, and referees were able to separate the two players. In fact, Knicks coach, Jeff Van Gundy even restrained Mourning by holding on to his leg.
After the game, Johnson and Mourning were both handed out two-game suspensions which forced them to miss the rest of the series.
6. Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley
The two work so well together in NBA’s TNT today. However, back then it was a different story. After Shaq fouled Barkley, the latter retaliated by throwing the ball at the former’s head. This ignited both players to scuffle on the hardwood.
The scuffle led to their ejection. And after the game, both players faced suspension and fines. Fortunately, the two have now resolved their differences.
5. Charles Barkley, Rick Mahorn, Bill Laimbeer, and Isiah Thomas
Aside from feuding with Shaq, Barkley also engaged in other brawls. In a game between the Sixers and the Pistons, two separate fights ensued between former teammates Isiah Thomas and Rich Mahorn. On the other hand, Barkley and Bill Laimbeer had a go at it.
The brawl lasted for five minutes. After the game concluded, several fines and suspensions were handed down by the league.
4. Larry Bird and Julius Erving
Playing against your rivals can bring out the competitive nature in you. However, sometimes when uncontrolled, things can get out of hand. In 1984 during the regular season, Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics played Julius Erving’s Philadelphia 76ers. Bird completely dominated the Sixers in that game.
With Bird rubbing it in Erving’s face, the latter lost his cool as both players engaged in an ugly scuffle that saw punches being thrown. Shortly after, both players were ejected from the game. Furthermore, both players were fined $7,500 apiece. The amount was the second-highest penalty given to a player for fighting.
3. Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks Brawl
With the championship up for grabs, the playoffs bring out the competitive nature of NBA players. Furthermore, it also brings out more physicality which could also trigger tensions and tempers. That was the case in Game Three of the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
In the crucial clash between the Bulls and the Knicks, Derek Harper and Jo Jo English tackled one another while throwing punches. Although several figures tried to pacify the fight, both players found themselves fighting all the way into the stands. Coincidentally, the fight appeared in front of former NBA commissioner David Stern.
After the game, English received a one-game suspension. On the other hand, Harper was penalized with a two-game suspension.
2. Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks Brawl
Just a little over a decade later, the Knicks found themselves in another serious brawl. The Knicks were in the latter part of the Nuggets’ beating where the latter was up by 19 in the fourth. While Nuggets coach George Karl left his starters on the floor, Smith was fouled hard by Knicks’ Mardy Collins.
After the hard foul, chaos ensued as Nate Robinson, J.R. Smith, Jarred Jeffries, and Carmelo Anthony started taking swings.
When it was all said and done, both teams were fined $500,000 apiece. Furthermore, Jeffries, Smith, and Robinson each received suspensions. However, Melo was punished the hardest with the league suspending him for 15 games.
1. Malice at the Palace
Malice at the Palace ensued in 2004 and there hasn’t been any brawl that has escalated to its gravity ever since. In fact, there’s hardly any other brawl in sports history that can match the chaos that ensued at the Palace.
While it initially started with a hard foul and a shoving match between Ben Wallace and Ron Artest, things got out of hand when a Pistons fan got involved. This resulted in Artest going into the stands while throwing punches. Furthermore, other players soon followed and a massive all-out brawl ensued as security and several NBA personnel failed to pacify the situation.
With a massive brawl, the game was eventually canceled with about 45 seconds remaining in the game. Although the Pacers won the game 97-82, the victory was hampered by the massive brawl which resulted in hefty fines and suspensions. This included Ron Artest being suspended for the rest of the season. Furthermore, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal received 30 and 25-game suspensions, respectively.