Let us get a few things straight before diving in. For the sake of digital media availability, “modern Pistons history” references anything from 1985 onward. As much as we’d love to delve into the days of Yardley, Lanier, or even Kelser, 99.7 percent of all Pistons footage prior to the mid-’80s is apparently still locked away in a basement closet at WKBD headquarters in Southfield.
As for the altercations we did include, there may be a few that slipped through the cracks depending upon footage availability. While a solid Bad Boys mixtape is always good for a pick-me-up, we opted to only use clips of brawls we could find in their original broadcast format (or anchor-led highlights in said format).
Other than that, enjoy:
Honorable Mention: Antonio McDyess vs. Kevin Garnett
Date: January 19, 2007
Antonio McDyess’ willingness to mix it up caught Pistons fans by surprise at the time. Alas, aside from Garnett’s ball toss, this one fits the bill as the quintessential modern day NBA tussle — a lot of words and a lot of backpedaling. Consider this one a warm-up.
Outcome: Double ejection
15. Andre Drummond vs. James Johnson
Date: December 19, 2014
For all intents and purposes, Andre Drummond was in the wrong on this one. But here’s the interesting part: we kind of liked it. Posterized by James Johnson one play earlier, Drummond countered with a malicious hip check the very next time Johnson stepped down the lane. For a team that was standing at 5-22, Drummond’s sign of life, even if in anger, temporarily warmed the hearts of a entire fanbase that’d been bred on physicality and fisticuffs.
Outcome: Technical foul (1) – Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes
14. Dennis Rodman vs. Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel & Patrick Ewing
Date: April 28, 1992
Worth an inclusion based on firepower alone. Dennis Rodman, Isiah Thomas, and Bill Laimbeer vs. Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel, and Patrick Ewing? The true miracle comes in how this exchange resulted in nothing more than heated words and the classic post-whistle push-and-shove.
Outcome: Flagrant Foul (Charles Oakley), Technical Foul (Patrick Ewing)
13. Corliss Williamson vs. Jermaine O’Neal
Date: March 26, 2002
March 26 has become something of a regional holiday around these parts over the years, at least to any self-respecting Red Wings fan (thanks, Mr. McCarty). So in that sense, maybe this was just Corliss Williamson’s way of paying homage to his ice hockey brethren.
Worth noting that this was the fracas that unofficially kicked off a multi-year rivalry that’d ultimately conclude with the ugliest moment in NBA history.
Outcome: Suspension – Jermaine O’Neal (2 games); Jonathan Bender, Primoz Brezec, Bruno Sundov (1 game for leaving the bench); Fines: O’Neal ($10,000); Corliss Williamson, Bender, Brezec, Sundov ($5,000)
12. Dennis Rodman vs. Brad Lohaus
Date: June 3, 1988
One thing we didn’t count on when making this list: Dennis Rodman playing the role of victim in his first two appearances. With his team on the verge of elimination, Boston Celtics reserve forward Brad Lohaus wrestled Rodman into the Silverdome basket stanchion as Danny Ainge and company piled on.
Our favorite line from the recap: “Security did well to keep too many fans from getting involved.” That’s where we were in 1988. It wasn’t necessarily about keeping fans from getting involved, just that the number of those who opted to contribute to the melee were kept relatively in check.
Outcome: Fines – Brad Lohaus ($1,500, instigation); Dennis Rodman ($1,000); Mark Acres, Jim Paxson, and Fred Roberts ($500, leaving the bench)
11. Bill Laimbeer vs. Scott Williams
Date: April 12, 1993
Sure, Bill Laimbeer delivered a two-armed cheapshot to the face of Scott Williams after the whistle. And yeah, Williams may have responded with a two-hand push-punch hybrid, inciting a bench clearing skirmish. So it only makes sense that the one guy suspended after all this was… Darrell Walker?
Chalk it up to bad timing. Less than a month earlier, Knicks guard Greg Anthony cold cocked the Suns’ Kevin Johnson while in street clothes. So the league responded, not necessarily by punishing those involved in brawls, just those who did so while wearing street clothes (from what we can tell, Walker spent most of the altercation spinning a miniature basketball in the palm of his hand).
What a world.
Outcome: Suspension – Darrell Walker (1 game, leaving the bench in civilian clothes); Fines: Bill Laimbeer ($12,000, instigation), Darrell Walker ($10,000), Scott Williams ($6,000), Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen, Bill Cartwright, Will Perdue, Ed Nealy, Rodney McCray, B.J. Armstrong, Corey Williams, Dennis Rodman, Mark Aguirre, Terry Mills, Mark Randall, Alvin Robertson, Danny Young ($500, leaving the bench)
10. Alvin Robertson vs. Shaquille O’Neal
Date: March 30, 1993
In was a busy couple of weeks for the Pistons back in ’93. Just 12 days prior to Bill Laimbeer’s battle with Scott Williams, we had the Alvin Robertson situation.
Following a Laimbeer bear hug on then-rookie Shaquille O’Neal, Robertson attempted to play peacemaker before he and O’Neal began exchanging words. That’s when O’Neal opted for a round of Wack-a-Mole, hammering Robertson at close range before the two were quickly separated.
Robertson actually avoided an ejection, but only for a fleeting moment, as he scrapped with Scott Skiles a few plays later and subsequently got the boot. The violence continued for Robertson just months following the O’Neal incident, when he infamously choked Pistons personnel director Billy McKinney after being informed of an unrelated suspension.
Outcome: Suspension – Shaquille O’Neal (1 game); Fines: O’Neal ($10,250, instigation), Alvin Robertson ($7,500)
9. Corliss Williamson vs. Brad Miller
Unless you’ve got a courtside seat, you can never really know what’s going on between the lines of a basketball game. For all we know, Brad Miller had it coming (he was not immune to an altercation or two himself). But as an outsider, this clip’s always been good for some comedic relief, mostly centered around the mystery of Zeljko Rebraca’s one-two combo to the back of Miller’s head (Why Zelly? Why?!)
Of course, Williamson had a nickname to uphold, so considering the potential history between Miller and Big Nasty (both were on the scene during the Pacers/Pistons tussle at No. 13), maybe there was more to this one than meets the eye. Bonus points for toying with Vlade Divac on the way out.
Outcome: Suspension – Zeljko Rebraca (1 game); Fine: Corliss Williamson ($5,000)
8. Grant Hill vs. Alonzo Mourning
Date: March 16, 1998
Who knew Grant Hill had it in him? And who thought it’d only take getting tangled up to incite his body slam of Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning? Either way, Hill settled matters in the most Grant Hill way possible: by unleashing a ferocious one-hand slam squarely in Mourning’s grill two plays later. Despite the relatively uneventful tussle, it was one of the coolest ways to end an on-court dispute we’ve ever seen.
Outcome: Bruised ego (1, Mourning)
7. Bill Laimbeer vs. Jawann Oldham
Date: March 12, 1985
This one registers as a six or so on the unintentional comedy scale. A pre-Bad Boys Bill Laimbeer was doing Bill Laimbeer things, pulling Bulls center Jawann Oldham to the floor following a dead ball. Then once the fight kicked off, the Bulls responded by… picking Pistons up in the air and just kind of holding them for a while.
Respect to Isiah Thomas for going after the seven-foot Oldham, but the broadcast team couldn’t help but chuckle once he was lifted like a paperweight. Wesley Matthews provided similar treatment for John Long, who went from fighting mad to “Welp okay, I guess I’m being carried backward now.”
Outcome: Play on?
6. Dennis Rodman & Bill Laimbeer vs. Larry Bird
This is one of the signature moments of Bad Boys basketball. Naturally, most clips of the event available on YouTube are either incomplete (above) or dubbed over with Guns N’ Roses.
In the interest of full disclosure, we understand Larry Bird’s discontent. Alongside Kevin McHale’s takedown of Kurt Rambis, this may have been the second most notable clothesline in NBA history.
Outcome: The birth of a rivalry.
5. Rick Mahorn vs. The Chicago Bulls
Date: January 16, 1988
So… this is when Rick Mahorn decided to fight the entire Chicago Bulls active roster, plus coaching staff. What kicked off as a horse collar wrap-up on Michael Jordan quickly turned into a face-to-face showdown with Charles Oakley. As Mahorn naturally gravitated toward the Bulls’ bench, everyone took a turn, including head coach Doug Collins (whom Mahorn comically dismissed over the scorers table).
Oakley eventually returned to the scrum, using Brad Sellers’ body to propel another haymaker in Mahorn’s general direction before Rory Sparrow found himself floorbound as Mahorn taunted him from above.
Yep, this one checks out.
Outcome: Suspension – Rick Mahorn (1 game); Fines: Rick Mahorn ($5,000), Charles Oakley ($2,000), Doug Collins ($1,500, “acting as other than a peacemaker during the altercation”), Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen, Granville Waiters, Vinnie Johnson, John Salley ($500)
4. Isiah Thomas vs. Bill Cartwright
Date: April 7, 1989
Say what you will about Isiah Thomas, but he made no qualms about fighting dudes twice his size. Most notable about this brawl with Chicago’s Bill Cartwright: whether it was on the hardwood floor or Cartwright’s jaw, Thomas broke his left wrist during the scuffle. He missed two games.
As for what kicked things off in the first place — Thomas had twice been a victim of Cartwright’s notoriously sharp elbows earlier in the season, at one point needing 11 stitches to close a gash over his eye. Once Cartwright began flailing following an early tie-up, Thomas took a stand.
Outcome: Suspensions – Isiah Thomas (2 games), Bill Cartwright (1 game); Fines: Thomas ($5,000), Cartwright ($2,500), Mark Aguirre ($2,000, “acting as other than a peacemaker”), all players who left the bench ($500)
3. Ben Wallace vs. Ron Artest
Date: November 19, 2004
We’ll get right to it. Here’s why this clip isn’t number one on our countdown:
- Most of the brawl occurred outside the hardwood. Strangely, there’s a loose code of conduct when it comes to basketball fights, and it includes not inciting a riot with 22,000 potential participants.
- The actual altercation itself between the two teams mostly amounted to a subversive foul by Ron Artest followed by an evolutionary Scott Williams-esque two-hand push shove to Artest’s face courtesy of Ben Wallace. After that, it was a lot of barking and squaring, but little in the way of actual team-to-team conflict engagement.
- Somewhere deep inside, there’s often a part of us that yearns for a taste of violent conflict when two teams square off. But despite a fist fight’s inherent risks, most folks don’t want to see things get too real. Tussle around, do a little dance, throw some terrible punches, and live to fight another day. The Malice at the Palace got way too real, and it had little to do with what was happening on the hardwood.
All that said, the event itself was way too huge not to include, so here we stand.
Outcome: Suspensions/Salary Lost – Ron Artest (86 games/$4,995,000), Stephen Jackson (30 games, $1,700,00), Jermaine O’Neal (15 games/$4,111,000), Ben Wallace (6 games/$400,000), Anthony Johnson (5 games/$122,000), Reggie Miller (1 game/$61,111), Chauncey Billups (1 game/$60,611), Derrick Coleman (1 game/$50,000), Elden Campbell (1 game/$48,888), David Harrison (1 game/None)
2. Bill Laimbeer vs. Brad Daugherty
Date: January 27, 1989
Come for the fight, stay for the slow motion fist-to-face replay. Click play, press “8” on your keyboard, enjoy over and over and over.
Outcome: Fines – Bill Laimbeer ($5,000), Brad Daugherty ($5,000), Wayne Embry ($1,000)
1. Bill Laimbeer vs. Charles Barkley
For everything The Malice at the Palace had wrong, the Chuck and Bill Showdown got (mostly) right. Two top level teams doing battle (the 76ers clinched the Atlantic division that night), one former teammate turned enemy (Rick Mahorn), and one heck of a donnybrook after Bill Laimbeer shoved the ball into Mahorn’s face following a last second dunk over Dennis Rodman.
Best of all, Barkley was all smiles when it was said it done.
“[Laimbeer] wanted a shot at the heavyweight title,” Barkley laughed, “But I think I got him in a decision.”
The two would partake in a re-match for 1991’s parody film Hot Shots.
Outcome: Suspensions – Bill Laimbeer (1 game), Charles Barkley (1 game), Scott Hastings (1 game); Fines: Laimbeer ($20,000), Barkley ($20,000), Hastings ($10,000), Isiah Thomas ($7,500), 10 players ($500 a piece for leaving the bench), each team ($50,000 for failing to control its players)