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When Push Came To Shove In The NBA
Anthony Cotton
November 14, 1983
With the regular referees locked out, pro basketball has taken on the appearance of height night at the fights
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November 14, 1983

When Push Came To Shove In The Nba

With the regular referees locked out, pro basketball has taken on the appearance of height night at the fights

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The NBA season has barely begun, but already the need for some rules changes is apparent: The foul lane should be expanded to a 20' X 20' area enclosed by ropes, the hardwood floor should be covered with a mat, and the four 12-minute quarters should give way to 10 three-minute rounds, ending with a bell and not a buzzer. Also, those guys with the whistles who are filling in for the locked-out NBA refs, whose contract expired on Sept. 1, should get combat pay, and there should be someone on hand to count for the knockdowns at the bell.

In the NBA—which some people are calling the National Boxing Association—the first Tuesday night of the regular season brought three super heavyweight bouts in three different rings. In Pontiac, Mich., Detroit Center Bill Laimbeer, weighing in at 245 pounds, and Milwaukee Center Bob Lanier, tipping the scales at 265. squared off in the second quarter underneath the Pistons' basket As Lanier jockeyed for position, he elbowed Laimbeer in the face, then turned and landed an overhand left that broke Laimbeer's nose—and sent him down for the count.

In East Rutherford, N.J., the Nets Buck Williams, a 215-pound power forward, warned his antagonist, Lonnie Shelton, who goes about 270, "Not to night, after Shelton jolted Williams with an elbow under the Jersey basket in the early moments. Minutes later the two squared off and threw punches

In action out West, Phoenix' Maurice Lucas, a 238-pound intimidator from way back, and Seattle's Tom Chambers, a 225-pounder who is rapidly gaining a reputation as a pugilist, were battling for position in the foul lane, when suddenly elbows and knees were flying everywhere chambers landed on the floor, Lucas had to be restrained by team-mates—and Don King and Bob Arum were bidding for the rematch.

The best Fight Night in the NBA occurred on Oct. 16 during a preseason game between those longtime 15-round foes, the 76ers and the Celtics. In one main event, Cedric Maxwell, 217 pounds, had the courage to wrestle with Moses Malone, 255 pounds. In another, Larry Bird, 220 pounds, boxed Marc Iavaroni, 225 pounds. As an extra added attraction, Red Auerbach, the Celtics' 66-year-old general manager, bounced out of the stands to challenge Malone. "Go on and hit me, you big s.o.b.," Auerbach is alleged to have said. Luckily for Red, Mp didn't take him up on that otter.

For their actions, Auerbach was fined $2,500, Bird $2,000, Iavaroni $1,000, Shelton $2,500 and Lanier—the president of the National Basketball Players Association—a paltry $5,000.

So what's going on here, anyway?

The fact is, law and order no longer exist in the NBA—and it won't return until the league reaches a contract settlement with the 29 referees it has locked out. And the mayhem that has pervaded NBA games has, at the same time, lowered the quality of play considerably.

"There's no doubt that we've been hurt by the fight issue." says Scotty Stirling, the NBA's vice-president of operations. "We have a problem with game control. But individually, it's hard to lay altercations off on the replacements."

Actually, it's not so hard. Granted, most basketball fights are spontaneous, but often they are the result of pushing, shoving, elbowing and jockeying for position that occurs away from the ball. The experienced refs are able to cope with this; the replacements—who include college officials and men who normally work Continental Basketball Association games—are not "They're not watching off the ball." says Chambers "They're keeping their eyes on it and away from the ball someone's getting hit in the head."

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