You are probably wondering at this point why I chose to put an aged picture of a shocked David Stern from the mid-90s above. It’s a picture of him from one of the worst fights in NBA history that changed the landscape of the league forever.
For the past decade or so, we’ve been hearing people call the NBA ‘soft’. Fans have been upset with some of the Flagrant Foul calls and have demanded for a change in the rules. I’m here to tell you why the NBA has turned into the league it is today, and why the lack of violence is necessary.
Back when the NBA began, and until the late 70’s, fighting was just a component of the game of basketball. While we can’t say that the league was doing too well, because it still wasn’t, fans enjoyed that aspect of the game. Players would get in fights, avoid ejection, and then use that fire to put on a clinic and bring their team back.
It made for great television, but the fighting took away from good basketball.
In December of 1977, the worst happened. A fight broke out between the Lakers and Rockets which resulted in the most grueling punch we have ever seen on a basketball court.
Kermit Washington punched Rudy Tomjanovich in the face who was going running at full speed towards the fight. Rudy T would fracture his skull because of the altercation.
This was the first time where the league would say to itself, “Oh crap, maybe we need to make a change”.
Ejections became more common and suspensions were heftier, but the fights would still be common until 1994.
Yes, I’m talking about the Knicks-Bulls brawl.
This wasn’t any ordinary fight between two teams. These were two of the top teams in the East having a full team on team brawl on live television in front of millions of fans and David Stern himself. (That’s where the shocked picture of Stern is from.)
This was the tipping point and Stern knew at this point that violence in the NBA had to be diminished. Suspensions instead of fines were now handed out to players who came off the bench during a brawl in a game because of this altercation. Stricter penalties were also levied on those who chose to fight. He wanted to turn basketball into a clean sport.
Of course we had the Malice in the Palace following this fight in 2004, but the notion of keeping violence out of the game was enforced following the 1994 brawl.
So, if you are ever stating that the NBA is soft, keep in mind that it wasn’t always this way. We had the generation where fighting was allowed and players getting into quarrels was routine, but that obviously didn’t workout well.
The game of basketball changed for the better.