Skip to main content

5 Best NBA Brawls of All Time

NBA fights

NBA fights

Celtics vs 76ers (1984)

On Nov. 9, 1984, fans were treated to a brawl that involved some of the biggest names in NBA history.

Late in the third quarter, Julius Erving was having a bad game with six points in 23 minutes played. To make matters worse, Larry Bird was having a huge game, 42 points in 30 minutes.   

Dr. J started the brawl by holding Bird and knocking him down. As Bird tries to retaliate, he’s held back by 76ers’ players Moses Malone and Charles Barkley, allowing Dr. J to get a few punches in on Bird.

Celtics vs Rockets (1986 Finals)

The Celtics were involved in another classic brawl two years later when the Rockets’ Ralph Sampson went after the Celtics’ Jerry Sichting in Game 5 of the 1986 NBA finals. Sampson and the Rockets were facing an uphill battle, down 3-1 against a very good Celtics team.

The fight may have been intended to change the course of the series, as frustration was building for the Rockets. The Rockets won Game 5, but the Celtics wrapped up the series and took home the hardware in Game 6.  

Bulls vs Knicks (1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals)

In Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Knicks’ Derek Harper and the Bulls’ Jo Jo English were involved in a small fight that didn’t look like it was going anywhere. However, players from both teams charged toward the action.

As the brawl went on into the crowd, Harper threw English to the ground. Oddly enough, the fight occurred right in front of then NBA Commissioner David Stern.

Knicks vs Nuggets (2006)

Tempers flared when the Nuggets’ J.R. Smith was fouled by the Knicks’ Mardy Collins. The Knicks’ Nate Robinson escalated things by grabbing Smith and shoving him.

Smith and Robinson took each other down as they tumbled into the first row of the crowd.

One of the highlights of the fight was the Nuggets’ Carmelo Anthony landing a solid punch, and then running away from the action.

All 10 players that were on the court were ejected from the game.

Malice at the Palace (2004)

When you think of a brawl in the NBA, this is likely the one that you think of.

The game had received a lot of media attention due to it being the first matchup between the two teams since the previous season’s Eastern Conference Finals, which the Pistons won on their way to win the 2004 NBA Finals.

In a game that focused around defense, Indiana was ahead 97-82 with 45.9 seconds left when Ron Artest made contact with the back of Ben Wallace’s head in a layup attempt. Tensions escalated from there, with Wallace retaliating and shoving Artest in the face.

Players on both teams were trying to break everyone apart, and Artest was lying on the scorers’ table.

It looked like things could die down, but then a fan threw a cup of Diet Coke at Artest. What happened after that caused for one of the more infamous events in American sports history. 

Honorable Mention

1977 Rockets vs Lakers

While in today’s game many of the brawls don’t result in serious injury, that hasn’t always been the case. In 1977, a small altercation at center court escalated when the Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich ran toward center court to break up the fight. Lakers player Kermit Washington saw Tomjanovich coming out of the corner of his eye and connected with one of the scariest punches the NBA has ever seen.

Tomjanovich suffered from a fractured skull, broken jaw, broken nose, and had some leakage of spinal fluid from the event. He was never able to play the same again. However, he did go on to win two championships as the Rockets' head coach.