The NBA has been a place where amazing and unforgettable moments occur every year. Thrilling plays and outstanding feats of athleticism are common place and wow millions of fans, making for a neverending stream of SportsCenter replays. However, the NBA isn’t immune from dark and troublesome times, either. For every jaw-dropping play or heartwarming story, there are just as many controversial, sad, or scandalous moments. This article will look at 12 of the darkest moments in NBA history, many of which changed the league forever.
12. Latrell Sprewell Attacks His Coach
The bond between a coach and his player is supposed to be sacred. A great basketball mind trying to shape players into better people and athletes. However, Latrell Sprewell must have missed the memo. While he was a talented player during his time with the Golden State Warriors, he also had a bit of a temper. This was clearly evident at practice in 1997 when, after getting criticized for his passing, Sprewell attacked his own coach P.J Carlesimo. He choked him for 10 seconds before teammates dragged him off, and then returned 20 minutes later to punch his coach in the face. As expected, Sprewell was soon removed from the team and faced a lengthy suspension before resurfacing in 1999 with the New York Knicks.
11. The 2002 Western Conference Finals
While this one is really only speculation (and basically impossible to prove), there are millions of people who believe that the 2002 Western Conference Finals was rigged. Not only did the NBA want the series go seven games, but they also wanted the Los Angeles Lakers — with superstars Kobe Bryant and Shaw — came out on top. While there were many questionable moments in the series, it was Game 6 that is the most (in)famous. There were dozens of bad calls throughout the game (and just as many bad non-calls), and the Lakers shot an astonishing 27 free throws in the 4th quarter alone, which led many to believe the game was fixed.
10. Reggie Lewis Collapses During Practice
As the “Big 3” in Boston of Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale were getting older, the Celtics wanted to add some youth. They got it in the form of first round pick Reggie Lewis, who they took in the 1987 draft. While he started his career slow, by the early 1990s he was one of the best players in the league and was primed to help the Celtics rebound. However, Lewis suddenly collapsed during an off-season practice in 1993 and was pronounced dead at the scene. He had a history of heart problems in the past, as he had collapsed during a playoff game only a few months earlier. Later it was speculated that hard drug use may have contributed to his sudden death, but those accusations remain unfounded. The Celtics retired his number out of respect.
9. Kobe Bryant is Accused of Sexual Assault
There is no doubting that Kobe Bryant is one of the best players in NBA history, but even he wasn’t immune from controversial scandals. Up until 2003, he was a legend, a fierce competitor, a champion, and everyone seemed to love him. However, that all changed when Bryant was accused sexual assault by a hotel employee in Colorado. While Bryant admitted to having sexual relations with his accuser (while being married, we should add), he claimed it was completely consensual. Even though the charges would eventually be dropped, his reputation was tarnished in the eyes of many. He lost some major sponsorship deals and also settled a separate civil lawsuit with the alleged victim out of court.
8. The Passing of Drazen Petrovic
Beginning his career in Europe, Drazen Petrovic was seen as one of the best basketball players in the world to not be in the NBA. However, in 1990, he experienced a breakout season with the New Jersey Nets and over the next few seasons, became one of the best guards in the league. In fact, he is considered a major catalyst for the large influx of European players we see in the NBA today. Unfortunately, his career and life were cut short when he passed away in a car accident in 1993 at the age of 28. His number has been retired by the Nets and many feel he is the best European NBA player ever.
7. Jayson Williams and his Fatal Mistake
Jayson Williams was a solid NBA player, but is known more for something that happened off the court. During a tour of his home (showing it off to those on his charity team), he was messing around with a shotgun and it went off, accidently killing a 55-year old limousine driver. He was charged and eventually sentenced to five years for the crime (and for attempting to cover it up). Even though it was an accident and happened after he has officially retired from a 1o-year playing career, this tragedy put a black mark on the league in the eyes of many.
6. Magic Johnson Retiring
When all is said and done, Magic Johnson will forever be seen as one of the best point guards in NBA history, He revolutionized the position and his impact on the league will be felt forever. However, the way in which his career ended is still one of the biggest shocks and saddest moments in league history. In a now-famous press conference in 1991, Johnson revealed he has contracted HIV and retired from the NBA immediately. After that, he helped raise awareness for HIV/AIDS and been responsible for helping fuel a ton of research looking for a cure. Despite the announcement, Johnson would play in the All-Star game that year (even though some players were vocally opposed to it) and was part of the 1992 Dream Team. He would unretire and play for the Lakers again briefly in 1996.
5. The Marv Albert Scandal
For many people, Marv Albert is the voice of the NBA. He is a household name when it comes to commentating basketball and is seen as one of the best in the business. However, in 1997, we got a glimpse into his personal life, and it was shocking to say the least. A woman came forward saying that her and Albert had a decade-long affair, and that he had forced her into doing many different types of lewd acts. He eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery charges. He was fired by NBC, where he had worked for over 20 years, but would eventually find his way back into commentating within a couple of years, much to the chagrin of many people.
4. The Death of Len Bias
Coming out of Maryland, Len Bias was supposed to be the next big thing in the NBA. He had the size, the athletic abilities, and the skills needed to be a great player. He was taken with the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics and they were sure they had their next star. Unfortunately, after attending a party just two days after the draft, Bias and some friends used cocaine. He collapsed and died due to his use of the drug. This was incredibly tragic, as he was only 22-years-old and had his entire life to live. It was a shocking wake up call to many NBA players about the dangers of instant riches and excessive lifestyles.
3. Kermit Washington Punches Rudy Tomjanovich
Back in the 1970s, full on fights in the NBA were common. We hardly see them anymore, and it is largely due to this incident. In 1977, a scuffle had started between the Lakers and the Rockets. Tomjanovich, a known peacemaker in the league, went to break up the fight. But before he could get there, Kermit Washington hit him with a roundhouse punch square in the face. The punch fractured his jaw and cheek, and even caused life-threatening head injuries, and left him unconscious in a pool of his own blood. As you could imagine, it was horrific in every sense of the word and led to the NBA imposing incredibly strict penalties for fights.
2. The Tim Donaghy Scandal
During his decade-plus career as a referee in the NBA, Tim Donaghy officiated almost 800 games in the regular season and 20 more in the playoffs. He was very respected as an official — up until 2007, that is. A New York Post investigation alleged that he had bet on NBA games that he was a referee for, including involvement from the mob. He would resign and plead guilty to gambling charges. This was a massive no-no and tarnished his reputation forever, and also the reputation of the league to some extent. He would make calls during games to benefit the bets he made, and made thousands of dollars as a result.
1. The Malice at the Palace
You knew this would be at the number one spot, and it is absolutely the darkest day in NBA history — by a long shot. After an on-court squabble between the Pistons and Pacers back in 2004, Ron Artest went to go cool off by laying on the scorer’s table. A fan then threw a beverage at him and all hell broke loose. In retaliation, Artest stormed into the crowd and punched the wrong fan. Numerous Pacers players also began to fight with Pistons fans, which turned an already ugly scene into one of the worst things to happen in pro sports. Huge suspensions were handed down and a ton of new security guidelines were put in place league-wide.