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Leaving the Bench - Suspensions During the NBA Playoffs

Five Knicks suspended crucial 1997 playoff games


Updated May 27, 2014
A shoving match involving Miami's Udonis Haslem and Dallas' DeShawn Stevenson during the first half of Game Six of the 2011 NBA Finals nearly escalated when several players from Miami's bench strayed a little too close to the action.

The scene was all too familiar to Jeff Van Gundy, on the sideline calling the game for ABC. Van Gundy was coaching the New York Knicks in the 1997 NBA Playoffs when he lost his two leading scorers - and four players in all - to suspension.

Their crime? Leaving the bench area during a fight.

One of the NBA's strictest, "no exception" rules forbids leaving the bench during any sort of on-court confrontation. Violating that rule means an immediate, no-questions-asked one-game suspension. Even for future hall-of-famers like Patrick Ewing.

Which brings us to Game Five of the 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals, with the New York Knicks facing the Miami Heat.

Charlie Ward vs. PJ Brown

The fight began with Miami guard Tim Hardaway at the free-throw line, Heat forward PJ Brown and Knick guard Charlie Ward battling for rebounding position.
  • Charlie Ward tries to go low and establish rebounding position on PJ Brown.
  • Brown lifts Ward and flips him, WWE-style, into the row of photographers along the baseline.
  • Knicks forward John Wallace is the first to intervene, attempting to get Brown away from Ward. Other players quickly join the fracas.
  • By the time order is restored, Brown, Ward and Knicks guard John Starks are ejected.
Miami went on to win the game by a score of 96-81.

After the game, the league announced that four Knick players – Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Allan Houston and Starks would be hit with one-game suspensions for leaving the bench during the fight. Ward was also suspended. Having five players suspended at once would have left New York below the minimum roster size for Game Six, so the “leaving the bench” suspensions were served in alphabetical order. Ewing and Houston – the Knicks’ top two scorers – and Ward missed Game Six; Johnson and Starks were unavailable for Game Seven.

Miami won the final two games and advanced to face Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals.

DeShawn Stevenson vs. Udonis Haslem

The situation during Game Six of the 2011 Finals had a crucial difference. Stevenson's confrontation with Haslem began after a time out was called. Several Miami players had already left the bench to high-five teammates; they were already on the floor when the near-fight broke out.

Of course, the point became moot when Dallas closed out the series with a convincing 105-95 win.

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