Prepare to have your mind blown. But first, the backstory.
Those willing to sacrifice early morning work productivity can attest Inside The NBA is by far the best show on television. Highlights become afterthoughts. Instead, it’s more so about Ernie and Kenny finding ways to crack on Chuck. Meanwhile, Shaq and Chuck go back and forth about who could whoop whose ass in a MMA-style fight that’s never going to happen.
Last night, the topic of whether or not Paul George deserves to be suspended for leaving the bench during last night’s shoving match between Mike Scott and George Hill arose. After cracking jokes on Charles for leaving the bench – unassertively, at that – during a Valentine’s Day 1997 scuffle between his Rockets and the Supersonics, Barkley began to express his disgust with Greg Anthony.
Now’s where we travel down a rabbit hole.
Chuck wasn’t just on to something. Chuck was absolutely right. The answer for everything traces back to March 23, 1993, to a contest between the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks. At the time, Chuck was in full swing of what would be his lone MVP campaign and both squads were legit title contenders sitting atop their respective conferences.
In an era defined by its bravado, the closing seconds of a competitive first half planted the seeds for one of the more perplexing, but understandably needed rules in league history. Let’s break down the tape.
:27 – Thunder Dan Majerle travels in between the trees, most notably Anthony Mason, for an impressive offensive rebound and put back.
:46 – Kevin Johnson and Doc Rivers are exchanging some grown man pleasantries. This won’t end well.
:50 – See, told you.
:58 – Good grief. If we see a shoving and yelling match that size today, refs are handing out so many double technicals we’ll get trapped in a parallel universe that shows nothing but 2013-2014 OJ Mayo highlights on loop.
1:15 – Check out Pat Riley with the dapper suit and slicked back hair. That man is a demigod amongst mortals. A saint amongst sinners, even. If he was any cooler, he’d be Billy Dee Williams in the Colt 45 commercial. Are we sure Billy Dee isn’t Pat’s spirit animal?
2:02 - Joe Crawford is bursting every blood vessel in his neck revisiting this clip.
2:07 – “I like the fact the Suns are saying, ‘We ain’t backing down from you New Yorkers.'” Even announcers used to instigate situations.
2:23 – Yep, that’s Oliver Miller (the real “Round Mound”) coming off the bench. Remember this moving forward.
3:54 – KJ knew he was going to nail Doc from the moment the ball was inbounded. Respect to Doc’s Usain Bolt sprint. Someone needs to sit these two down now and play this and ask them to narrate the clip.
4:23 – Greg Anthony emerges in street clothes from the bench to land a mean one on Kevin Johnson. The best part? His Hawaiian shirt that could’ve passed for threads straight out of Jay Z’s closest.
4:27 – Hell yeah, that’s Patrick James Riley right there in the thick of things (presumably) getting his own set of punches in on Johnson alongside Anthony. In reality, he was attempting to pull Greg Anthony away, but it’s a lot more fun to imagine Riles adding to the ruckus.
4:35 – The most underrated moment from the entire brawl was the fling seen here. He tossed him like a rag doll.
6:26 – As if confirmation was needed again, Anthony, Patrick Ewing and Riley jumped KJ something serious. If everyone wasn’t already on the ground, they might’ve stomped him out like Pac, Suge and company did Orlando Anderson.
Phoenix returned after halftime, dismantling the Knicks 121-92. But what’s eerie are the parallels 21 years later. Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge – seen paired one-on-one right before KJ delivered the defensive pick from hell – would later work together in Boston, helping restore the Celtics to dominance and respectability. And inadvertently give us this.
Doc’s leadership as the face of the Clippers during SterlingGate was beyond admirable, a quality to be expected from one of the genuine great guys of the league. Yet, who was the man stepping to the plate helping Rivers and the Players Association put pressure on Silver and the league to drop the hammer? Mayor Kevin Johnson. The same Kevin Johnson who was the reason all hell broke loose in the first place. And who was the announcer during last night’s Game 6 between the Pacers and Hawks when George (barely) stepped off the bench? Greg Anthony.
David Stern and Rod Thorn would dish out over $160,000 in fines. By the start of the 1993 playoffs not even two months later, the NBA had already altered its rulebook. Players who threw punches were automatically ejected. Punches thrown that actually connected were grounds for immediate ejection and an one-to-five game suspension. Meanwhile, “any player leaving the bench area during a fight will be fined $2,500, up from $500, and that player’s team will be fined $5,000 for each of its players who leave the bench area.”
The 1993 Knicks entered the playoffs as the top seed overall and infamously blew a 2-0 Eastern Conference finals lead to Chicago. Part of the meltdown had to do with newspaper reports screwing New York over, much like how the “Mr. Unreliable” headline spelled Memphis’ doom last night. And, then, of course, the “Charles Smith Game” happened.
Phoenix, on the other hand, later advanced to the Finals behind MVP Charles Barkley’s finest game ever, Game 7’s 44 points and 24 rebounds against Seattle.* Unfortunately for Chuck, God disguised himself as Michael Jordan (again) and the Suns became the third of Chicago’s five victims (Utah got it twice) en route to the Bulls’ first three peat.
The “leaving the bench” clause would expand over time and the Suns’ next best opportunity at a title came 14 years later against the San Antonio Spurs. With series tied 2-2, championship aspirations spontaneously combusted the moment Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw left the bench to defend Steve Nash who had just been hip checked by Robert Horry, automatically suspending them for Game 5.
The same rule the Suns involuntarily helped birth stabbed them in the back. Karma always operates on her own schedule.
* – I love Chuck. I think the guy is one of the greatest living Americans. He’s got the greatest job in America, hands down. But someone on that set needs to ask him how in the hell Phoenix shot 64 free throws that night.