On the morning of Thursday, April 19, 1990, the Philadelphia 76ers awakened with the knowledge that the only thing standing between them and their first Atlantic Division championship since 1983, was the Detroit Pistons. The two teams appeared to be evenly matched. Alongside Philly’s Atlantic Division prospects, the defending NBA champion Pistons were already on their way to their third consecutive Central Division title themselves.
On this particular night, something had to give, and it all seemed to start and stop with former Bad Boy Rick Mahorn. After being left unprotected by the Pistons in the 1989 expansion draft then refusing to report to camp for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Mahorn latched on with the 76ers, quickly forming a plus-sized duo with teammate Charles Barkley.
And if Mahorn’s fourth-quarter skirmish with Isiah Thomas was any indication (and by skirmish we mean “situation where Thomas tried to punch a disinterested Mahorn in the face”), then there seemed to be little love lost between former teammates.
Still, even with the ejection of Thomas, the real fireworks didn’t kick off until the final seconds, when Mahorn hammered home a game-clinching two-hand dunk while absorbing a tough foul from Dennis Rodman. While Mahorn stared down Rodman post-dunk, all-around good guy Bill Laimbeer (heavy sarcasm) arrived on the scene just in time to force-feed the basketball to Mahorn’s face. And that’s when things got real.
I have to be honest, I was at this game as a 12-year-old and things were tense in the stands as
Barkley scrambled to the scene to Mahorn’s defense, landing a straight left to Laimbeer’s right eye. The two then exchanged blows before Laimbeer wrapped up Barkley in a headlock, bringing multiple players tumbling to the ground along the far baseline. Even rarely used Scott Hastings got in the act, sneaking in an attack from above on a ground-bound Barkley.
All told, it was the wildest fight in Palace history aside from one other notable dust-up that we all know about.
In the end, the Sixers would escape with the Atlantic Division title they so desired. And as a bonus, Barkley may have earned himself another title along the way, “[Laimbeer] wanted a shot at the heavyweight title,” Barkley said, “But I think I got him in a decision.”
The fallout from the Pistons/Sixers donnybrook was downright laughable in comparison to the 4,592 hours of community service and seven episodes of Outside the Lines a similar brawl would likely provoke today:
|*Received one-game suspension|
In all, three players were suspended, for just one game apiece. And in terms of the $20,000 fines, Barkley summed it up best, “I don’t care if I get fined,” Barkley said. “I make $3 million. What’s a couple of thousand dollars?”