Reliving the Sixers-Pistons brawl that featured Charles Barkley, Bill Laimbeer and Jim Lynam


As we continue to wait for the return of live sports, this pause does allow for a trip down memory lane. I know I’ve found myself going down YouTube rabbit holes of late.

One video that I sought out this weekend was a Sixers game against the Pistons from April 1990. 

So this stands out for two reasons: 1) the Sixers clinch a division title for the first time since 1983, and 2) a huge brawl breaks out at the end of the game with Charles Barkley and Bill Laimbeer at the center of it. 

Here’s a running diary of the brawl starting at 2:13:40: 

2:13:50: After a pair of free throws from Hersey Hawkins (one of the all-time great names to hear Delaware Valley natives navigate), the Sixers hold a 12-point lead with 26 seconds to go. This should end without much incident. 

2:14:02: The Sixers allow an uncontested layup to Joe Dumars. Mike Gminski, AKA "The G Man," takes the ball out of bounds. The Pistons are pressing down 10 with less than 20 seconds remaining. Gminski finds Rick Mahorn, who advances the ball into the front court. Game over. 

WAIT! Mahorn, the former Bad Boy Piston, decides to rub a little salt in the wound and goes in for the slam dunk. Dennis Rodman, sans dyed hair at this point, makes slight contact for an and-1. Keep in mind that Pistons star Isiah Thomas was ejected minutes earlier for throwing two punches at Mahorn. 


2:14:12: Unwilling to let Mahorn’s unnecessary dunk go unpunished, Laimbeer sticks the ball in Mahorn’s face. An official separates the former teammate and that’s when Barkley comes in to set a match to the gasoline. Barkley lands a right under Laimbeer’s eye. Vinny Johnson half-heartedly attempts to get between Barkley and Laimbeer. You don’t send a man nicknamed “The Microwave” in to cool something down. 

2:14:30: The benches clear and the brawl stumbles along the baseline and near the stands. Mahorn pulls at the jersey of James “Blue” Edwards who turns around and looks to engage. But who comes to the rescue but Sixers head coach and current NBC Sports Philadelphia analyst Jim Lynam. Coach is making the disgusted face he makes when I suggest a bit of strategy to him when we’re watching games now.  

2:14:45: Someone on the Pistons named Greenwood (doubting it’s Lee) pulls Barkley out of the pile. Sixers assistant coach Fred “Mad Dog” Carter then grabs Barkley from Greenwood and escorts him to the Sixers bench. 

2:15:20: Moments after the two sides begin to separate and return to their benches, we see the first of the damages. It’s a Laimbeer black eye courtesy of Barkley. The Sixers shoulder their share of the blame here, but it’s Laimbeer, so it’s impossible not to feel some sense of pride even 30 years later.  

2:15:30: Sixers play-by-play man Neil Funk opines, “There’s just confusion, mass confusion right now.” Not sure where the confusion stemmed from. Unnecessary dunk as taunt, ball shoved in face, fight. Pretty straight-forward timeline. 

2:16:10: In one of the interesting design quirks at the Palace of Auburn Hills (see 1991 Bulls), the ejected Laimbeer has to walk past the Sixers’ bench to get to the Pistons’ locker room. This goes off without inci— ....   

Of course, this leads to Round 2. Laimbeer and Detroit teammate Scott Hastings have some words with Sixers’ players. Ron Anderson gives the international sign for "Come get some."

2:16:30: In all of the chaos, let’s not lose sight of the hair from reserve big man Kurt Nimphius. After giving a solid eight minutes off the bench, it was off to a Damn Yankees video shoot for Mr. Nimphius. 

2:16:42: Somehow, Barkley gets loose and goes up the tunnel after Laimbeer. We don’t see any of this, but Funk is justifiably worried about this development. The camera then pans to the tunnel area after Funk alerts that Barkley is mixing it up with a fan. We can’t see exactly what happened but we do know that every Pistons fan in that general area appears to want a piece of Sir Charles. The only man that prevents this from escalating into a full-blown “Malice at the Palace?” You guessed it. Kurt Nimphius. The 10-year NBA veteran and his perfect coif gets between Barkley and the fans. 


2:17:30: Finally, both teams begin to clear the tunnel area and make their way back to the benches. 

2:18:08: An all-time look of frustration from Coach Lynam. Even I haven’t gotten that look from him before. At least not to my face. 

2:18:35: We see John “Spider” Salley (the Bad Boy Pistons had a lot of nicknames) and other Pistons mimic the fight for head coach Chuck Daly. Did Daly fall asleep during the last few minutes? Yes, Chuck there were punches thrown. Then, Funk worries that “there may be more than fines involved.” Could you imagine if this happened now? Barkley would be done for the season and playoffs, at least. But in 1990, there was worry that the punishment might be more than fines. For what it’s worth, Barkley, Laimbeer and Hastings were all suspended for ONE game. Each team was also fined $50,000.  

2:21:08: Following the final seconds being played out, we see the Sixers return to the locker room and begin to celebrate with champagne. Were they celebrating a division title or Laimbeer’s black eye? Only they know the answer. 

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