The Biggest Basketball Brawls and Fights in NBA History

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When you combine trash talk and the physical nature and high emotions of an NBA game, things can sometimes get out of control. The NBA has seen hundreds one-on-one fights through its many years of basketball history, but it is the all out brawls among teams, players, coaches, and sometimes even fans, that remain etched in our collective sports memories. There have been instances where a fan has hit a player in the face with a cup of beer, ongoing feuds between players and teams, and healthy rivalries that blossomed into perpetual battles royale.

During the 1980s and 1990s the NBA was used to seeing scuffles breakout on a nightly basis with teams like the rugged New York Knicks, the "Bad Boy" Detroit Pistons, the Chicago Bulls, the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat, and the Boston Celtics all regularly contributing to the mayhem. All out brawls became commonplace in the NBA during the final quarter of the 20th century and they weren't always broken up in a timely fashion.

Things were so tense and physical during the NBA's glory years that fouls that you'd think would easily get a player ejected and suspended, were nothing more than a personal foul. Remember when Celtic Kevin McHale dropped a wicked hard clothesline on the Laker Kurt Rambis? It nearly caused a bi-coastal war among the NBA's two most storied franchises and officials called nothing more than a personal foul on McHale.

One of the most memorable major brawls in NBA history was, of course, when the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers came together in what became known as "The Malice in the Palace." There have been many scuffles in the NBA but these are perhaps the biggest basketball brawls and fights of all time. Check out these fights, then head over and check out the craziest NBA brawls of the 2019-20 season.

  • Kevin Garnett Head-butts Dwight Howard

    Kevin Garnett Head-butts Dwight Howard
    Video: YouTube

    The head-butt that left the NBA world buzzing on January 12, 2015 happened after Garnett fouled Howard during the first quarter. The two lightly shoved each other, which set something off in Garnett– prompting him to head-butt him near his mouth. Howard, of course, retaliated, which caused a bit of a tussle between the teams. Garnett was thrown out of the game, suspended for the next one, while Howard was fine $15,000 for pushing Garnett in the neck. 

  • Ben Wallace and Ron Artest: The Malice in the Palace

    Ben Wallace and Ron Artest: The Malice in the Palace
    Video: YouTube

    It all started in the final minute as Ben Wallace gave Ron Artest a shove to the face. Artest was being held back by an official and Wallace stalked him across the court. Artest decided to relax his back on the scorers table while cooler heads prevailed.

    It was then that a Pistons's fan decided to lob a cup of beer into the grill of the Pacers's star. The rest is history. A history that includes players going up in the stands and a lot of punches being thrown.

  • Kermit Washington and Rudy Tomjanovich: The Punch

    Kermit Washington and Rudy Tomjanovich: The Punch
    Video: YouTube

    The most infamous punch in NBA history didn't need to happen. Tomjanovich, the future NBA coach had his career ruined and his future altered when he ran to the defense of his teammate, who was in a seemingly innocuous bear hug from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. What happened next changed two lives forever.

    (Skip to the 1:45 mark if you just want to see the punch.)

  • Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson... and Jeff Van Gundy?

    Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson... and Jeff Van Gundy?
    Video: YouTube

    The Knicks and Miami Heat provided plenty of great NBA Playoff battles in the 1990s and a big reason for it was the altercations that came nearly every time they faced each other. In this fight, notorious tough guy Charles Oakley was so busy trying to unhook his coach from Mourning's ankle that he forgot to continue the fight. Thankfully, Oakley chose to be a good guy by saving his coach, because he could have knocked Mourning out with a one-hitter quitter while the 7-footer was too busy looking down in dismay at the Knicks coach who was hanging off of his foot.