When The Hot Celtics-76’ers Rivalry Boiled Over

When The Hot Celtics-76’ers Rivalry Boiled Over

There has been a rivalry between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76’ers since the 1960’s, and there were times when the duels boiled over. Here are two of those heated battles, one from the early-60’s and the other from the mid-80’s.

I was there at the old Boston Garden for the latter of the two dust-ups. Both the Celtics and 76’ers came into The Garden undefeated on Friday night, November 9, 1984. Larry Bird got hot right out of the gate. Bird was known as a devoted trash talker, and it is more than somewhat possible that he was on a roll with his verbal taunts (per NBA.com Staff):

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 five 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.

Prior to the skirmish, referee Jack Madden suffered a broken bone in the knee area, and his partner, Dick Bavetta, was forced to work the game alone, including getting between the combatants.

More than two decades earlier the Boston Celtics were taking on the 76’ers on April Fools Day, April 1, 1962. Sam Jones was known for taking a pass from center Bill Russell on a pick-and-roll situation and launching a jump shot just over the fingertips of Wilt Chamberlain – often followed by the verbal taunt by Jones, “Too late”.

But this time, Sam had just given Wilt a hard foul, and upsetting Goliath had consequences. And they came in the form of Chamberlain coming after Jones – who promptly “borrowed” a stool from a photographer as a potential weapon. No physical battle ensued, and play was resumed.

In an interview, Sam told me he was picked up the next day by Wilt and they had dinner together with Wilt’s mom. When Wilt’s mother asked Sam what he intended to do with that stool, he answered: “I was going to break your son’s legs, ma’m. He was trying to kill me.” Jones finished our conversation with:”Wilt and I were always good friends. (But for the next game) He told me not to come into the lane”.

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