Entering the 77-78′ NBA season, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the most dominant basketball player on the planet for almost a decade. In his two years with the Lakers, he had won two MVPs.
The Lakers’ first game of the season was against the Bucks. Milwaukee had the first pick in the 1977 NBA draft. They selected Indiana big-man Kent Benson.
Before his first game in the league, Benson spoke about how he would try to defend Abdul-Jabbar: “I’m going to try and push and shove. But how much I can get by with, I don’t know.” It turned out, very little. In the second minute of the game, Benson shot an elbow at Kareem’s gut. Kareem began to jog up the court as if nothing had happened, then turned and sucker-punched Benson in the mouth. Needless to say, Kareem was ejected from the game.
Following the game, Benson took the altercation remarkably well considering his rough introduction to the league saying he was “sorry the whole thing had to happen.” Kareem was less conciliatory saying that he didn’t regret the punch and he’d do it again. The refs didn’t like Kareem (to be fair nobody liked Kareem), so he was pushed around in the post and cheap shotted constantly with no whistles. The punch was a statement that he wouldn’t be taking it this season. The statement cost him $5,000 (of a reported $500,000 salary), the largest fine in league history at that time.
The greater cost, though, was that Kareem had broken his hand on Kent Benson’s face. The reigning MVP was kept out for two months missing 20 games.
“I received an elbow in the stomach, and when I retaliated, I got a $5,000 fine and the other guy got nothing,” Abdul-Jabbar said.