During his time in Detroit, former Pistons forward Rick Mahorn teamed up with fellow ruffian Bill Laimbeer to form the core of a hard hitting Pistons unit that would come to be known as the Bad Boys. While Mahorn was all business and bruises on the court, he retained a light-hearted demeanor off of it.
Following Mahorn’s departure to Philadelphia (via Minnesota) in 1989, not much changed. The on-court menacing continued; he even absorbed a flurry of punches to the face from former teammate Isiah Thomas before inciting a near riot at the Palace in 1990. Only this time, in lieu of Laimbeer, Mahorn teamed up with All-Star forward Charles Barkley to form a meaty rebounding duo that came to be best known as “Thump n’ Bump”.
In typical Mahorn fashion, while game time was all about elbows, over-aggressive boxouts and chair-pulling, the light-hearted antics behind the scenes carried forth, with Barkley all too willing to play along. This most clearly manifested itself to the public with a series of pranks the duo played as a part of an unofficial early 90’s NBA video series showcasing various athletes getting the best of their professional basketball playing counterparts.
Perhaps most infamously, Barkley and Mahorn joined forces to deliver this gem at the expense of 7’7” Manute Bol, whose subsequent exclamation (“Awww S***! It was Rick Mahorn’s head!”) has been lodged in my brain since 1994 :
However, skirting under the radar all these years was a beauty of a prank in 1990 on then-NBA rookie J.R. Reid.
Teaming up with Reid’s Charlotte Hornets teammate, the ineffable Muggsy Bogues, Mahorn & Barkley orchestrated a complex scenario that began with Reid coming over to Bogues’ house for a seemingly innocuous dinner party. The catch: the prank crew had rigged the local news broadcast to provide a fake breaking news story reporting Reid had been traded to the Philadelphia 76ers… for Rick Mahorn. That’s where the fun really begins, as Reid watched the tube intently to garner more details.
“I feel the Sixers really got a bad trade right now,” Mahorn told the faux newscast. “(J.R.) is a talented player, but he can’t hold the line, he can’t do the things I can do. I’m just really disgusted with the whole thing.”
A seemingly distraught Charles Barkley didn’t hesitate to pile on.
“It’s terrible, it’s terrible,” Barkley said. “I think Charlotte probably got the better end. They got an experienced veteran forward and we got a little kid who’s not ready yet.
“It’s just a bad, bad trade.”
Virtually speechless, Reid attempted to reach out to friends and family. Alas, in a pre-cell phone world, Bogues and company were ahead of the game, having rigged his home phone line to ring busy for any attempted outgoing call. Reid was left to soak it all in, watching a report that culminated with a wonderfully awkward-by-design climax when Bogues, the teammate comforting him throughout this breaking news, can suddenly be seen on screen doling out harsh criticism of his young teammate.
“I mean, there was just always something about J.R.,” Bogues admitted. “He was always late to practice. There’s always something about his car, there’s always an excuse. I think we just need to get this behind us and move on and get a better player like Rick Mahorn in here.”
Finally, with Reid’s world sufficiently rocked, the prank is revealed. It takes J.R. close to 15 seconds to fully understand he’d been had. One has to wonder how he responded when he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs just two years later.
In a modern world where sprinkling popcorn around a rookie’s apartment constitutes as a worthy NBA prank, we long for the straight-to-VHS pranks of days gone by.