When you think about some of the biggest fights in NBA history, the “Malice In The Palace” has its spot at the top as one of the most infamous slugfests ever. After all, it included players like Ron Artest and Ben Wallace going at it and spilling over into the crowd, battling it out with the fans in one of the wildest sights you could ever see on an NBA court. But what you may not know, this wasn’t the first Pistons game that ended up in players fighting with fans.
Back in 1977, the Detroit Pistons were battling the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the Western Conference. It was a tough playoff series with some of the biggest NBA legends in Bob Lanier and Rick Barry battling it out. Tensions were high, and things would escalate in the crucial win-or-go-home Game 3. Midway through the third quarter, with the Pistons up 3, Eric Money of the Detroit Pistons and Charles Dudley of the Golden State Warriors would get into it under the basket, getting tangled up and exchanging punches.
This would quickly turn into an all-out brawl with both teams clearing their benches and storming the court. Things got so wild amongst the players and coaches that even fans got in on the action as the fight spilled over to the sidelines. Detroit’s M.L. Carr got punched in the face by a fan, which led to Lanier knocking out the fan, that got arrested and escorted out of the arena. Lanier’s punch caused even more chaos, as multiple other fans got into it, leading to numerous arrests and bloody faces.
After things finally calmed down, Lanier, Barry, the coaches, and the referees would engage in a long and heated discussion that ended up with Money and Dudley, who started the fight getting assessed with personal fouls. That was it—no ejections, suspensions, or fines. Just imagine something like this happening in today’s NBA. The whole team would get suspended with a hefty fine, and the fans would be banned from the arena for life. But this was a different time, in which the commentators started calling the fight like they are boxing announcers, and the refs deciding to call fouls on the main culprits of the chaos.
Maybe the fact replacement referees were ruling the game because of the strike NBA referees were on at the time had something to do with it, as the inexperienced refs didn’t know what to do. But this was a different era, and the rules weren’t so strict. In the end, the Warriors would feed of the incident, getting momentum and swinging the game in their favor, as they won 109-101 led by Rick Barry’s 35 points to advance to the second round.
One of the main actors in the fight Bob Lanier, had 30 points, but it wasn’t enough to save the Pistons from elimination. But at least he got the chance to knock out a few Warriors fans in the process—definitely one of the wildest games in NBA history.