Former NBA coach George Karl recalls one of the wildest fights in NBA history that he was directly a part of, and it happened when he was still a player back in the '70s.
The NBA was different back in the '70s
Before he became one of the most tenured NBA head coaches of all time, George Karl started his journey as a player for the San Antonio Spurs in the early 70's. He spent a few years in the league as a player before retiring and dedicating his life to coaching. Karl played in something that is now considered a dark era of the NBA when the viewership wasn't brilliant, and the league was going through a dramatic change after merging with the ABA.
On top of that, the league was full of players that were everything else before proper athletes or role models. A lot of them had problems with drugs, alcohol, gambling, and other illegal activities, and seeing an NBA fight during that decade was a regular occurrence.
In his own autobiography book "Furious George", Karl recalls a game against the New Jersey Nets and the Spurs in which he initiated one of the worst brawls up until that point in NBA/ABA history. At that time, Karl was a role player with a scrappy style of play and was known for his defense, so when the coach told him his primary assignment was guarding one of the Nets' best players, Karl took it seriously. Overall, the game was more physical, and the refs tolerated many things that would be considered fouls in today's NBA.
Karl tried to use that to his advantage and get in the opposing players' space as much as possible, which soon initiated a few elbow shots that connected with his chin. That immediately infuriated Karl, who wanted to start a fight, and soon enough, they were both squared up, ready to take on the challenge.
"The Nets had two All-Stars, Dr. J (Julius Erving) and Brian Taylor, their ball handler. I'd get Taylor if I got in the game. Bass put me in to spice things up in the first quarter, and I immediately invaded Taylor's personal space, guarding him closer and more roughly than he liked. He threw some elbows at me. That was okay. In the second quarter, his elbow connected with my chin. Not okay. I saw blood, and I saw red, and I said, "Hell, I'm gonna hit him." I ran after him, jumped him from behind, and we both fell. Then we got up and squared off."
All hell broke loose
Soon after the fight broke out, Karl realized it started a chain of events that he didn't think were possible, and pretty much all hell broke loose on the court. Karl recalls that the brawl lasted approximately 20 minutes, with several players ending up bloody and bruised afterward. Brian Taylor, the player Karl initially fought, even waited for him outside after the game, wanted to get revenge.
"After that, it was crazy. The benches emptied. A cop came out on the court, and his gun fell on the floor. Edgar Jones's teeth fell out. The wrestling and grabbing, and shouting with occasional punching went on for twenty-two minutes. It was one of the longest-lasting fights in NBA history, resulting in a lot of bloody mouths and bruised fists. Taylor wanted to take another swing at me again after the game, out where the buses loaded. I just laughed at him, but not too loud, because we lost the game. In a way, the fight with Taylor was business as usual for me."
Karl admits fighting was a common thing for him back in the day, and it was a way for him to earn respect in an incredibly tough league, especially for someone who was a role player like him. He was a fierce competitor, and in order to impact the game, he had to do all the things necessary to earn minutes on the floor, fighting and playing tough being one of them.
Fighting in the NBA was normal throughout the 80s and the '90s, but now we don't see it anymore. There are a few scuffles every now or then, but brawls and fistfights during the game are a thing of the past. The NBA doesn't tolerate it anymore, giving out heavy fines for players that even try to land a punch on someone else. The players' mentality also changed, and they don't want to jeopardize an injury that might cause them to lose money over a heated moment during the game, no matter how frustrated they get.