A Look Back - November 9, 1984
It was a Friday night. November 9, 1984. Not that this day goes down in American history as significant or as meaningful as the day Pearl Harbor was bombed or D-Day or 9-11, but when the Boston Celtics met their arch-rivals the Philadelphia 76ers at the Boston Garden that evening, no one knew what impact this game would have.
The 76ers were the NBA World Champions in 1983. The Boston Celtics captured the NBA World Championship title in 1984. Do you see where this is leading?
Both teams came into this particular game undefeated, Philadelphia at 5-0 and Boston 4-0. One team would walk away with an unblemished mark; the other team would have a mark in the right-hand loss column.
Each team boasted a 'who's-who' roster. The Celtics with: Cedric Maxwell, Larry Bird and Robert Parish up front and Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge in the backcourt and off Head Coach K. C. Jones' bench were: Kevin McHale, Quinn Buckner, Scott Wedman, M.L. Carr, Rick Carlisle, Greg Kite and Carlos Clark. The Sixers started: Julius Erving, Marc Iavaroni, Moses Malone, Clint Richardson and Maurice Cheeks, with Charles Barkley, Bobby Jones, Sedale Threatt, Leon Wood, Andrew Toney (injured this game and not with the team), Clemon Johnson and Sam Williams coming off Coach Billy Cunningham's pine.
The Boston Garden was, needless to say, packed and primed full with 14,890+ raucous fans - the 176th consecutive sellout.
Just as Julius Erving had done the in the 1970's, being the dominant and most colorful player in the league, Larry Bird was gaining the same recognition and status in the 1980's. Yes, it was a game, an intense regular season tilt, but it was also a clash of two great teams and franchises... a war, as the late Johnny Most would say.
The game had turned into a personal showcase for Bird. The "performance," given the opponent, the standings and the atmosphere, could have been his best ever. But it was cut short.
Bird came out white-hot and torched Erving and the Sixers for nine points in the first 5:34. However, at the end of the first quarter, the Sixers held a slim 32-30 advantage. Two quarters and many unbelievable baskets later, Bird and the Celtics led by 21 points, 98-79, and went on to a 130-119 victory.
Along the way, 'Friday night at the fights' erupted. Bird had posted 42 points (on 17-of-23 shots from the floor) and 7 rebounds in 30 minutes.
He and the Doctor would miss the final 13:38. Keen Celtics fans probably forgot the final score or that the Green and White
led by 21 or that Ainge would hand-out 12 assists or DJ would magically come up with 5 steals in the victory. They just remember that two superstars, Bird v. Erving, threw punches at each other, were ejected (at the 1:38 mark of the third quarter) and the end of a classic all-around game by #33. (Erving finished with 6 points (on 3-of-13 shots from the field) in 23 minutes).
The phrase, "I went to a basketball game and a hockey game broke out," was heard for weeks and months after that wild evening.
In the aftermath, the NBA Office handed out a grand total of $30,500 worth of fines. The two prime combatants, Bird and Erving were each assessed a pink slip of $7,500 each. M. L. Carr and Moses Malone each drew a $3,000 fine, Charles Barkley $1,000 for fighting and Bill Cunningham a $2,500 setback for post game comments. 12 other players (six from each team) each drew a fine of $500 for leaving their respective bench during the melee.
What else is ironic to this game was the fact that both Bird and Erving wore, advertised and endorsed Converse basketball shoes at the time; both players went on to be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial basketball Hall of Fame and that one of the NBA referees in that game, veteran Jack Madden, suffered a fractured bone above his knee early in the third quarter and was forced to miss the rest of the contest (including the fight). Veteran NBA referee Dick Bavetta, all 5-11 and 155 pounds soaking wet, had to pull double-duty and officiate the game solo. He calmly held his own in separating men a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than himself over the course of the "performance".