For the most part, this series has been about certain aspects in a fight that we as fans take note of: technique, dominance, and beautiful violence. But I go off-script from time to time, this week included.
It’s always a significant moment when fights break out in an NBA game. Not because people expect a championship-caliber pugilistic exchange, but because of the comical chaos within the entire situation.
During his heyday, big man Alonzo Mourning was a force to reckon with. He was 6’10” and 261 pounds of hardiness and brawn. He stood his ground in the post and feared no man, no matter how hard they drove to the basket.
You can say the same thing about Larry Johnson. At 6’6” and 250 pounds, he threw down the same man-sized dunks as Mourning did. At the height of his career, he was a headache to deal with for most power forwards in the league.
As ballplayers, you can’t question the athleticism of these two men. But when it came to throwing hands? That’s an entirely different story.
It all happened during Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference playoffs between the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat. As it is in a high-stakes game like this one, a mere schoolyard shove can cause tempers to flare up.
But based on the slo-mo replays of this video, it was Mourning who first threw a short, sneaky right hook on Johnson during an active play. L.J. responded with a clothesline, then the two started hurling punches at each other… hitting nothing but air.
Now, I’m having an internal debate about which moment is more attention-worthy: two elite NBA big men in their prime showing their version of a fistfight, or Jeff Van Gundy sprinting to the court to pacify the situation, only to be dragged down to the floor and almost stomped to death.
I don’t want to generalize, though. Because some of them can throw a nasty uppercut off of a nice underhook.
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