The NBA continuously changed the rules to reduce the physicality of the game. The idea was simple - fans prefer a game in the 120s and not the low 80 point battles that were common back in the day. I love fast-paced creative offense as much as the next guy, but there are a lot of 79-77 games that were equally entertaining to watch.
The pendulum swung too far in favor of offense, and we've seen the latest rule changes address that. There's an inherent level of contact and conflict you have to allow so the game can reach its peak. I mean, this would probably be a flagrant and a suspension nowadays, and that is wrong.
So what set off the chain of events that led to the lack of physicality we have in today's game? As always, (bad) luck was involved. Since the beginning of the game, players would sometimes settle their differences with fists. To make myself very clear, I don't think slugging it out should be allowed. But, if it does happen, teammates should separate the ones involved, slap them with a hefty fine, maybe a few games suspension and let's move on. If you want passion on the court, these things will happen from time to time. Unfortunately, one of these moments occurred in the worst moment possible, leading to the overcorrection we are witnessing today.
"All the rules they implemented because of the fighting, which the Knicks had two or three major ones that changed the course of the League. Against the Suns, with Greg Anthony sucker-punching Kevin Johnson."
Chris Herring, Hoops Adjecent
Even for the 90s, the Knicks played an intense brand of physical basketball. Everyone thought Pat Riley would bring Showtime to New York, but as we learned, that was the anomaly. The Knicks were a better reflection of Riley's identity and mentality - a hard-working blue-collar group. This fight was the starter, and then we got the main dish, which was unfortunately served right in front of David Stern and his wife.
Herring: The Derek Harper - JoJo English fight, which happened mere feet away from David Stern when he was with his wife.
Aldrige: Yeah, and that's why the league changed the rules. Because the fight happened right in front of David Stern
The NBA had a lot of worse fights, and the League didn't respond as drastically as they did after the Harper-English fight. That one is the perfect example of "wrong place, wrong time." Not only did it happen a few feet from the Commissioner, but you know the fact Mrs. Stern was there didn't help the situation.
That fight was the tipping point. David Stern issued fines that totaled $162,500, the second-highest in NBA history. And that offseason, much stricter penalties and consequences were introduced for fighting on the court. Of course, this happened before the Malice in the Palace, which is the most extreme example of fighting in NBA history.
But the Harper-English fight was the moment David Stern decided enough was enough. One of the main rules in any workplace is not to fight in front of the boss. Harper and English learned it the hard way.