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Embarrassing moments

Violence, cover-ups, drugs cloud the NBA

Posted: Wednesday August 2, 2006 12:06PM; Updated: Thursday August 3, 2006 7:18PM
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It's a pity the old American Basketball Association could not be included in this discussion, for it could probably supply 10 embarrassing/worst/hilarious moments on its own. Many of them would involve Marvin Barnes and the St. Louis Spirits, perhaps the most colorful pro basketball team of all time.

On Feb. 6, 1975, the Spirits decided to hold a "Beat the Nets" night. They were the New York Nets then, the defending ABA champions and led by an Afro-ed young star named Julius Erving. Barnes, a free spirit who spent most of his postgame nights -- most of his nights, in fact -- at parties and in pool halls, decided to write a couple of poems for the evening. Here is one of them:

There once was a doctor named Erving,
Whose slam dunks were especially unnerving,
But when Marvin gets movin',
And the crowd gets to groovin',
For the doctor a hospital bed they'll be reserving.

Alas, the final was 113-92, Nets.

See? I got an ABA story in anyway.

Herewith the NBA moments:

1. Snoozeball: Nov. 22, 1950

Opponents of the Minneapolis Lakers could never figure out what to do with George Mikan, their giant, bespectacled center and the game's first dominant player. But on this night Murray Mendenhall, coach of the Fort Wayne Pistons, had an idea. A bad idea, but an idea nonetheless.

He instructed his team to do little else but hold on to the ball, thus rendering Mikan all but useless.

As Fort Wayne passed the ball listlessly around the outside and various players held on to it for minutes at a time, the officials, Jocko Collins and Stan Stutz, screamed at them to do something. But the Pistons were not violating the rules at the time. There was a "flurry" of scoring at the end of each of the first three quarters, but when the Pistons scored a basket in the final seconds, they took a 19-18 lead and held on for the victory.

NBA president Maurice Podoloff expressed his concern the next day that fans would be turned off -- gee, you think? -- but it wasn't until four years later that the league instituted a 24-second clock. This game was listed prominently as one of the reasons for the innovation.

2. The Punch: Dec. 9, 1977

When a fight broke out during a Los Angeles Lakers-Houston Rockets game at the Forum in L.A., Rudy Tomjanovich, then a 29-year-old, 6-foot-8 All-Star forward, did what seemed natural -- he rushed to the aid of his Houston teammate Kevin Kunnert, who was engaged in a tussle with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Kermit Washington, also 6-8, and one of the game's first real power forwards, did what seemed to be natural to him, too. He sensed Tomjanovich coming from behind and, thinking he was protecting himself and his teammate Abdul-Jabbar, turned around and threw a haymaker at Tomjanovich. It landed as squarely as any punch in any game has ever landed, and basically crushed Rudy T's face. Abdul-Jabbar later said that he didn't see the punch but heard it.

Tomjanovich subsequently required five surgeries, and though he later returned to the NBA, he was never quite the same player. But in the long run, the punch was worse for Washington, and not because he was fined $10,000 and suspended for 60 days. Though he was a gentle man with a good basketball mind, Washington was labeled a villain and a thug, and after retiring from the game in 1982 he could never climb the coaching ladder. Rudy T., meanwhile, coached the Rockets to back-to-back championships in 1994 and '95.

The men have since reconciled. But rarely is there a punch thrown on an NBA court when that moment in the Forum is not recalled.