The 1983 fight between Hawks center Tree Rollins and Danny Ainge was one of the better brawls in NBA playoff history.
But no one has ever been exactly sure what happened. According to Rollins, here’s the scoop:
“The media never got it right, the real story,’’ he said.
It was a mini-playoff series, the best of three games. The Hawks took Game 2 in Atlanta 95-93 and headed back to Boston for the deciding game.
During the series, Ainge had spent plenty of time trying to work his way through screens set by Rollins and his outsized elbows.
After dropping in a basket in the third quarter, Rollins headed back down court and elbowed Ainge to the head. Ainge went after Rollins and tackled him as the benches cleared. A melee ensued and Ainge was thrown out of the game.
What the referees missed was that during the fight, Rollins bit Ainge’s finger, which would lead to a five-game suspension the next season. The next day, the Boston Herald ran the memorable headline, “Tree Bites Man.’’
But the urban legend began to grow, that somehow actually Ainge had done the biting and had also called Rollins a sissy.
“We ran a play called ‘One Swing,’’’ said Rollins. “Mike Glenn came down the middle and I would come off the bottom of the lane and set the pick. Back then, you could really stick someone. I got Ainge with a rock solid pick. Back then, when you made a legal pick the official would clap his hands.
“Then Danny came at me (later) and all hell broke loose. In the pile, somebody stuck their finger in my eye and I didn’t know it was Danny but I bit his finger.’’
The Hawks would go on to lose the game but the series had taken a toll on the Celtics. Ainge needed stitches, a tetanus shot and Boston was swept in the next round by Milwaukee.