Ryan L. Fox
It’s one thing when fans heckle a professional athlete with the usual ‘You suck!/Overrated!’ heckling. It’s another thing when fans take it to the next level and create a situation where a physical altercation takes place (i.e. a fight or throwing something at an athlete). When that happens, you know that.
Last Saturday, July 17, when the Boston Red Sox were in the Bronx taking on the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, a Yankees fan threw a baseball back onto the field (after swiping it from a Red Sox fan) and it hit Red Sox OF Alex Verdugo. The fan was promptly thrown out of the game and given a ‘lifetime ban’ as well. Before that months earlier, a Boston Celtics fan threw a water bottle at Brooklyn Nets PG Kyrie Irving as he was leaving the court after a 141-126 win against the Celtics in Round 1 of the NBA playoffs. As much as sports media outlets tried to portray both incidents (especially a major push by ESPN on the Kyrie water bottle incident) as the worst altercation of all-time between fans and an opposing player/coach, it makes you wonder…were they really?
This week’s Top 5, we look at some of the worst altercation between a player and coach and fans.
5. Cornbread and the Fan (1981)
The NBA during the 1980s was a lot different than today’s game. It was a more physical, more cutthroat, and players wouldn’t hesitate to get into physical confrontations instead of the chest-bumping, face-to-face nonsense today’s typical NBA players get into.
During the 4th quarter in Game 6 the Eastern Conference Finals of the 1980-81 NBA season between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers, Celtics SF Cedric ‘Cornbread’ Maxwell got into a tussle with 76ers C Darryl ‘Chocolate Thunder’ Dawkins under the basket which led to Maxwell getting bumped out of bounds. The Celtics small forward ended up bumping into a 76ers fan before trying to head back to the court. But right before he did so, Maxwell turned right back and charged at the fan, tackling him onto some seats as the two tussled with one another briefly before security, Maxwell’s teammates, and Dawkins separated the two.
The Celtics would ultimately win the game 100-98 before taking Game 7 and knocking out the 76ers from the playoffs. Still, the whole incident shocked both teams as Maxwell wasn't known for outbursts like that but added more to the Celtics-76ers rivalry of the early 80s.
4. Gamboa Jumped by Father-Son Duo(2002)
Every so often during a baseball game, you have that one idiotic fan that decides that it’s a good idea to run onto the field and disrupt a game for just a mere 15 minutes of fame and a night in jail plus fines. On rare occasions, these ‘events’ turn hostile. Unfortunately for then Kansas City Royals’ first base coach Tom Gamboa, things became hostile on one fateful September night.
On September 19, 2002, in a game against the Chicago White Sox at Comisky Park, the Royals were up 2-1 heading into the top 9th inning. Then out of nowhere, two fans (34 year-old William Ligue Jr. and his son, 15-year old William Ligue III) ran onto the field and began to attack Gamboa from behind (the Ligues tried to claim Gamboa was taunting them and giving them the finger but there was no visual evidence). Royals players immediately ran out from the dugout and onto the field to protect their first base coach, separating him from the father-son duo (and getting in a few good punches) before security guards detained them and escorted them out of the stadium.
The Ligues were booked on aggravated assault charges with Ligue Jr. sentenced to 30 months’ probation (which he ultimately violated in April of 2004 during a carjacking incident and got nearly 5 years in prison) and Ligue III sentenced to 5 years’ probation. Although Gamboa suffered permanent hearing loss in his right ear from the attack, he still coached in the majors till 2003 before doing multiple coaching stints in the minors before ultimately retiring from baseball in 2017. (--)
3. Seles Stabbed By Fanatic (1993)
If you look up the term ‘fan’ in the dictionary, you’ll see that it’s short for ‘fanatic’. While most fans will settle for cheering on their favorite athlete or buy their merchandise, some will go a step further and ultimately cross the line between a casual fan and fanatic. Such was the case back on April 30, 1993, during the Citizen Cup in Hamburg, Germany which would go down as the ‘darkest day in tennis’.
During the event, then-world No. 1 female tennis player Monica Seles was facing off against Magdalena Maleeva in the quarterfinals. But during the match, a German man named Günter Parche ran onto the tennis court in between games and stabbed Seles in the back between her shoulder blades with a boning knife. The reason why he did that was because he believed that by ‘taking out’ Seles, it would allow another female tennis player he was a fan of, Steffi Graf, to become the World No. 1 female tennis player (Seles had taken the No. 1 ranking from Graf back in 1991 and kept during the 1992 season).
Luckily for Seles, the blade didn’t pierce too far to be fatal. It did have a lasting psychological damage on her as Seles stopped playing tennis for two years and suffered bouts of depression and eating disorders as a result from the attack. Luckily, she made a comeback in 1995 and was still able to compete at a high-level for the remainder of her tennis career (including participating in both the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics). Parche, on the other hand, spent less than 6 months in a pre-trial detention before ultimately deemed mentally ill in a German court and sentenced to 2 years’ probation and receive psychological treatment. This seemed like a lenient sentencing in the eyes of many given what had transpired on the tennis court in Hamburg (assault with a deadly weapon, attempted murder).
As a result of the attack on Seles, there was an increase of security personnel at tour events as well as in some tennis events that year (i.e. Wimbledon), tennis players were seated away from the audience and closer to the umpire’s chair. Also, Seles ultimately refused to participate in any sort of tennis event in the country of Germany, angered how Parche essentially got off with a mere probation punishment after attempting to murder her and not only cost her the No. 1 ranking in the world but two years of tennis as well as physical and mental scars.
2. Bruins Go Into the Stands (1979)
There have been altercations between hockey players and opposing fans for ages. Usually the fans would say something outlandish (and mix a few crude insults) at a player while out on the ice or in the penalty box and said player would chirp back or just laugh at them. On very rare occasions, you might have a fan loaded up on 'liquid courage' and take things to a whole new level like a Philadelphia Flyers fan fighting Toronto Maple Leafs toughguy Tie Domie in the penalty box or a drunken Quebec Nordiques fan fighting the entire Buffalo Sabres roster.
But back on December 23, 1979, at Madison Square Garden, the Boston Bruins players and the New York Rangers fans had one of the most infamous encounters in hockey history. What started as a physical game between the Bruins and the Rangers turned into something that seemed like it was right out of the movie Slapshot.
It was towards the end of the game as the Bs ended up beating the Rangers on the final score of 4-3. After the final horn sounded, both teams entered minor scrums with each other from tensions spilling over from the game (it was hockey in the late 70s, early 80s so it was to be expected). But then something happened that changed the whole complexity of this postgame scrum.
Out of nowhere, a Rangers fan by the name of John Kaptain reached over the glasses and smacked Bruins RW Al Secord in the head with a rolled-up game program. To add insult to injury, Kaptain also yanked away Secord’s hockey stick. Because the glass panels were a lot lower back compared to now, Kaptain was able to get away with both actions.
However, he didn’t get away from Bruins RW Terry O’Reilly, who promptly climbed over the glass and into the stands to go after Kaptain. O’Reilly caught Kaptain as the two began to tussle with each other in the stands. Seeing one of their own going into the stands, many Bruins players followed suit and hoped over the glass. Some Rangers fans saw this and decided that the smart thing to do was to engage the Bruins players. Another scrum ensued as security personnel and police officers tried to separate players and fans. The climax (and arguable the most enduring of this) of this was Bruins defensemen Mike Milbury taking off Kaptain’s own shoe and gave the man a couple of good whacks with it.
Yup...he literally whooped a grown man's ass with his own shoe.
In the following days, Kaptain, along with his brother James, his father, Manny, and a friend of his, Jack Guttenplan, were charged with disorderly conduct but the charges were dropped. In a surprised move, they opted not to press charges against the Bruins players who went after them in the stands.
The NHL, on the other hand, wasn’t so lenient. O’Reilly was suspended for 8 games for the incident and teammates Milbury and C Peter McNab (who went after Kaptain with O’Reilly) for 6 games as well. Them as well as 14 other teammates who went into the stand (the only one who didn’t was goalie Gerry Cheevers as he was in the locker room at the time) were fined $500 each (approximately $1,871.18 in 2021). The NHL also raised the height of the glass panels around the rink to ensure that something like that never happened again.
There has never been any sort of hockey player/fan scrum that has ever approached that magnitude of sheer madness ever since then. For better or for worse, that fateful night at Madison Square Garden has gone down in hockey lore as a moment you had to be there for as well as Milbury whooping Kaptain with his own shoe being one of those moments that there had to be video evidence, or nobody would believe that had happened.
1. Malice in Palace (2004)
If you don’t know what the ‘Malice in the Palace’ was, you either lived under a rock or went out of your way to ignore it. What started off as just a mere ‘in-game hostilities’ between two teams turned into biggest basketball brawl in NBA history and it also changed the dynamics between player and fan interactions in North American sports.
It was late in the 4th quarter during a game between the Indiana Pacers and then-defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons on November 19, 2004 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The Pacers were up 97-82 with 45.9 seconds remaining in the game when then Pacers SF Ron Artest (now Metta Sandiford-Artest) committed a hard foul on Piston C Ben Wallace. The two players got into each other’s face and then a minor shoving match before promptly being separated by teammates (Wallace also threw a towel at Artest afterwards). Artest decided to lie down on the scorer’s table while players were busy jawing and referees were trying to restore.
Then...all hell broke loose.
John Green, a Pistons fan, threw his beverage cup at Artest, who immediately got up off the scorer’s table. He then did the unthinkable and charged into the stands and into the direction of where he believed the cup came from. The Pacers small forward then confronted Michael Ryan, another fan who Artest assumed was the perpetrator, before tackling him and violently pinning him down in the seats. Pacers teammate SF Stephen Jackson followed Artest into the stands, punching another fan, William Paulson, in the face because Paulson threw a drink onto Artest while he was beating up Ryan.
As Artest and Jackson were fighting spectators, their teammates Eddie Gill, David Harrison, Reggie Miller, Fred Jones, and Jamaal Tinsley as well as Pistons PF Rasheed Wallace, Pistons radio analyst Rick Mahorn, and numerous arena and security personnel to break up the fighting climbed into the stands and get the two out-of-control players back onto the court. Once back on the court, Artest was confronted by two more Pistons fans, Alvin “AJ” Shackleford and Charlie Haddad. Both fans ended up on the flood (Shackleford was leveled by a punch by Artest while Haddad fell over trying to help up Shackleford) as Haddad ended up being two-tapped by Pacers PG Anthony Johnson (kick to the head) and PF Jermaine O’Neal (punch to the jaw). Another Pacers player, C David Harrison, was seen fighting fans while they tried to rush the court.
The referees ultimately made the decision to call the game off and award the Pacers the victory since they were winning at the time. Fans booed and showered Artest and the Pacers players while they were leaving the court with beer, soda, popcorn, insults, and even a steel chair (it was aimed at O'Neal and barely missed him). Eventually police officers arrived onto the scene to restore order and force the fans to leave. However a few fans had to be taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries.
Everybody from team personnel to reporters to both radio and television analysts could not believe what they had witnessed. On all accounts, it was just utter chaos. Nobody knew how to react or what to say afterwards.
Almost immediately, NBA Commissioner David Sterns brought the hammer down on everybody who was involved. Sterns levied the biggest suspension for an on-court incident in NBA history to Ron Artest, suspending him for a record 86 games (73 regular season and 13 subsquent playoff games) and fining him a whopping $5 million (approx. $7,191,529.91 in 2021) for his role in the Malace at the Palace, which the media latter dubbed. Other suspensions and fines included the following:
Because of the violent nature of this incident, charges were brought on 5 Pistons fans, including Green who started the whole brawl, as well as Artest, Jackson, O’Neal, Johnson, and Harrison.
For NBA policies, Sterns issued new securities guidelines for all 30 arenas later in the season. This included a new size limit for alcohol purchases (24 US fl oz), a ‘two-drink’ cap for alcoholic purchases by one person, the ban of alcohol beverages after the 3rd quarter, and at least three security guards between the fans and players at all times. Also more security and arena personnel were added to the Palace of Auburn Hills (and subsequently Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the home arena of the Pacers) when the two teams met during the season.
It will be 17 years this upcoming November 19 since the Malace of the Palace occurred. By all accounts, this was the worst player-fan altercation not only the NBA has ever seen but the worst player-fan altercation in all of North American sports. Arena operations, security, NBA policies, and lives were changed on that fateful night. Even those who weren’t at the game watched the replays on news channels and sports media networks, in complete shock at what they saw. It was pure, utter chaos. A maelstrom of violence if you must. There has never been an incident like that since then and hopefully, there won't be one in the future.
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