In 1986, the Boston Celtics were on their way to becoming NBA champions thanks to a historic performance from Robert Parish. Along with Head Coach Bill Fitch and his squad of tough veterans, they had their sights set on victory in the Finals for the first time since 1969. However, that ended abruptly when Payton outplayed Sam Jones in Game 2 of the finals and forced him into an embarrassing mistake during overtime which led to a shocking defeat by George “The Iceman” Gervin’s San Antonio Spurs.
Ralph Sampson is a retired basketball player who was born in Virginia. He played for the University of Virginia, and then for the Houston Rockets, Washington Bullets, and Philadelphia 76ers. At 6’11”, he was the tallest player in NBA history until Shaquille O’Neal surpassed him during his career. Read more in detail here: ralph sampson.
The NBA Finals in 1986 were all about Ralph Sampson. Fans of the Boston Celtics didn’t like him either. He and Celtics guard Jerry Sichting engaged into a historic confrontation during Game 5 in Houston, which resulted in the dismissal of the Houston Rockets’ 7-foot-4 center.
The battle jolted the Rockets and their supporters into action, and they won convincingly to trim their series deficit to 3-2. When the series went to Boston for Game 6, Sampson was surrounded by security. As he entered the Boston Garden, he was met with an unappealing item hanging from the rafters.
Nearly 34 years later, he and former Celtics player Cedric Maxwell recounted the little-known event.
During the 1986 NBA Finals, Ralph Sampson and Jerry Sichting were involved in a fight.
In this undated picture, Houston Rockets’ Ralph Sampson dunks against the Boston Celtics at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. | Focus on Sport via Getty Images .
Prior to the 1985-86 season, Sichting was brought in to help bolster up the Boston bench. He was a tough, good-shooting guard who filled in for Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge. The 6-foot-1 player got into an all-out brawl with Sampson, who is 15 inches taller, during the fifth game of the 1986 NBA Finals.
It occurred in the second quarter of Game 5 when Sichting was matched up against Sampson in the post. Sichting remembered his part in the battle in a Boston Herald piece from June 2020.
He quipped, “It was my 15 minutes of fame.” “Every now and again, I hear something about it.” Unfortunately, I didn’t make a game-winning 3-pointer in the Finals like (John) Paxson and (Steve) Kerr did with the Bulls, so I suppose that’s what I’ll be known for.
“I’ve seen the replay, and it seems that your memory isn’t up to par. It wasn’t as much of a quick break as I had anticipated. But I attempted to shut him out, and large folks don’t often enjoy it when tiny ones try to block them out.
“So he whacked me in the back with a forearm, and the official called a foul, so I turned around and went back to him, like, what are you doing?” He swung from a great distance away as I held my hands palms up in the air. I’m glad I didn’t get too close to him. He smacked me in the face with a glancing blow, and that was the start of everything.”
In Game 6, Ralph Sampson was disqualified and had to face with an unwelcome sight in Boston.
On a December 2020 edition of The Cedric Maxwell Podcast, Sampson had a rare interview with Maxwell. After the altercation, he and Maxwell discussed what it was like for Sampson to return to Boston for Game 6. First, Maxwell, who was a member of the Celtics from 1984 to 1985, felt compelled to apologize to Sampson.
“I’m going to apologize to you for something that the majority of your followers are unaware of,” Maxwell stated. “In Boston, it’s just a blip on the radar.” When Houston returned to Boston, there was a mannequin in the rafters with your jersey on, your number, and your name hanging from the rafters. I owe you an apology, and I wasn’t even present. It’s basically a blemish on Boston’s history that no one talks about.”
Sampson discussed his return to Boston.
“I leave that game (Game 5) and there’s all this hatred, letters, and phone calls,” Sampson said. “We need to have security around you, according to the team.” I dialed the numbers of my two weight-lifting coaches at Virginia.
“I didn’t pay much attention to it since I was focused on playing and winning.” But I felt there was something unique about performing in Boston at the time because I was surrounded by security. We get to the game, and you describe how pumped up the Garden was, and you’re ready to play.
“We attempted to arrive early to beat Larry (Bird), who is always striving to be the first on the floor.” But, yes, there was a mannequin or stuffed human figure wearing socks, a jersey, and an afro wig. It had my number 50 on the back and a noose hanging over the Boston Garden’s rail, as if they were going to hang me when I got there.”
Sampson said that the event only spurred him to improve his game, but that such an act would never fly today.
Before talking about the mannequin incident, Sampson shared his thoughts on the Game 5 brawl with Sichting.
“I had like 15 points and eight rebounds in the first quarter,” he claimed. “I put down a pick, and Danny Ainge comes out and runs around it. He smacked me in the face with his fist. I put down a pick, turned around, and Jerry Sichting did the same.
“I was really pumped up because it kept occurring. It occurred once, and I became enraged, and we came to blows.”
The pregame altercation in Boston, according to Sampson, only served to drive him.
Sampson told Maxwell, “It simply drove me to play harder.” “Coach Bill Fitch (a former Celtics coach) is familiar with the audience. Got us off the court, which, in retrospect, was the best decision we could have made. ‘I pulled you off the court because something was about to happen,’ he said. He went inside the dressing room with the starters. We were escorted off the floor by security, and our replacements played the last three or four minutes.
“It’s sort of amazing that you walk into a stadium and they let it happen.” That is not something I believe they would do now. If someone tried that now, security would very likely detain them. In Boston, you understand their devotion to their team, but when you do anything that is detrimental to their team, some people may react negatively.
“When you took a step back and apologized — which you didn’t have to do — it inspired me to play even harder. When I think back on it now, I wonder, “What does it mean, and how can we alter these people’s views, particularly in the society we live in today?”
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