It takes something pretty dramatic to steal the spotlight from LeBron James, especially considering the NBA superstar was making his home-court debut for the Los Angeles Lakers.
- LeBron James was making his home debut for the LA Lakers after his high profile move from the Cleveland Cavaliers
- A brawl erupted in the fourth quarter of the match between the Lakers and the Houston Rockets when Lakers player Rajon Rondo allegedly spat at Rockets star Chris Paul, leading to a flurry of punches
- Paul, Rondo and a third player, Brandon Ingram were ejected from the game and were handed suspensions and fines.
But that is exactly what happened on Sunday [AEST] when a brawl erupted between the Lakers and Houston Rockets during the fourth quarter of their NBA match at the Staples Centre.
Three players were ejected from the game for their parts in the fight — Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram from the Lakers and Chris Paul of the Rockets.
The fight kicked off when Ingram shoved Rockets guard James Harden after conceding a technical foul.
As the players came together, Rondo and Paul — two players with a history of incidents stretching back to 2009 — began throwing punches before being separated by their teammates, with James dragging his friend Paul away from the confrontation.
The Rockets were leading their hosts by 109-108 with just 4:13 minutes remaining in the game.
Footage has since emerged showing Lakers star Rondo spitting at Paul, sparking the ugly confrontation between the pair.
Sportscentre tweet: The Rockets submitted this video to the NBA as the league investigates last night’s fight at Staples Center.
Ingram and Rondo were both suspended without pay — Ingram for four games, Rondo for three — and will pay fines of $US158,816 ($223,500) and $US186,207 ($262,045) respectively. All three players were ejected from the game.
Paul, who is president of the NBA Players’ Association, was also suspended for two games, although his financial penalty was the most severe of the three, copping a whopping $US491,782 ($692,076) fine.
Houston coach Mike D’Antoni disagreed with the severity of Paul’s penalty compared to that given to the Lakers players.
“It’s just not equitable,” he said. “If you wanted to suspend him one [game] I get it, just to make a statement.
“Then you’re talking monetarily, he’s paying three times more than the other guys are paying for missing games? That doesn’t seem to be right.”
The NBA said that Paul was suspended for poking at and making contact Rondo’s face and throwing multiple punches at him.
“What is he supposed to do? Just stand there and get spit on and then take a punch in the face and say, ‘Well, that’s OK’,” D’Antoni said. He called Rondo’s spitting “pretty disgusting”.
“In the heat of the moment when somebody does that, that’s tough, that’s really tough,” D’Antoni said.
Rockets player Eric Gordon, who started in place of Paul in Houston’s loss against the LA Clippers on Monday [AEST], also defended his teammate, saying: “If somebody is attacking you, you got to protect yourself”.
The league said Ingram was suspended for aggressively escalating the altercation and throwing a punch in the direction of Paul, confronting referee Jason Phillips in a hostile manner, and instigating the overall incident by shoving Harden.
James Harden and Brandon Ingram came together initially to spark the brawl. (AP: Marcio Jose Sanchez)
“We don’t want this to happen again,” NBA executive vice president Kiki van de Weghe said.
“[We are] sending a clear message that this is not acceptable behaviour and you cannot do this. So in this particular instance, the multiple-game suspensions are pretty severe both to their teams and financially to the players.”
“Rajon has his own view of what happened,” VanDeWeghe said. “I think that we had a clear view that, however you want to interpret it, that there was a spitting in Chris Paul’s direction. I think I’m going to leave it at that.”
The four-game suspension is the longest for an on-court incident since April 2012, when Metta World Peace of the Lakers received seven games. World Peace elbowed Harden, who was then playing for Oklahoma City, in a game also at Staples Centre, to earn that penalty.
Houston went on to win 124-115, spoiling James’ home debut and leaving the Lakers without a win in two games so far this NBA season.