SLAM TOP 100 | Number 40: Kevin McHale and the Clothesline

The 1984 NBA Finals were much like many things in 1984: gritty, rough and dirty. Celtic Pride on one side, Showtime Lakers on the other. And somewhere, smack in the middle of all that, a white boy from Minnesota and an even-whiter boy from Terre Haute, Indiana, figured in one of the rivalry’s most iconic moments. It was Game 4, in the Forum.

The Lakers were ahead in the series 2-1, and had just come off a 30-point beatdown of Boston in Game 3. On another patented LA fast break, Kurt Rambis, goggles and all, was leading a 2-on-2 break (why this is important will makes sense in a second). Out of nowhere, Kevin McHale straight clotheslines Rambis, the inside of his elbow landing perfectly on Kurt’s poor neck, sending the Laker forward hurling to the hardwood.

It remains to be one of the most violent fouls ever committed in the NBA.

Just don’t say that to Larry Bird. “Well that’s where all the flopping started,” Bird said in the documentary. “I don’t think Kevin hit him that hard.”

Rambis, obviously, feels differently. “I was pissed. I thought that was a cheap shot and something you don’t do.”

James Worthy was right next to the play (AND YOU SHOULD HAVE PASSED TO HIM, KURT. AND NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED) and has his regrets about it. “That was a nasty, dirty play, and I wish I had not been in the way of Kurt going to get Kevin,” he said. “He deserved an ass-whooping for that.”

Danny Ainge, expectedly, because he’s the wily little irritant that he was, loved it. A lot. “I was like, ‘Yes, Kevin!’ because that was not in Kevin’s nature at all.”

In his own words, however, Kevin McHale, is surprisingly in the middle of his teammates and sworn enemies. “I went to foul him, and when he skidded on the floor and bounced around … I mean, I didn’t really care about hurting him that much, but I was like, ‘Oh, that might have been a little bit more than I anticipated.”

Basically, “Oops. My bad. Whatever.”

Gotta love the 80’s.

McHale’s hard foul changed the complexion of that series and saved the Celtics from going down 3-1. Instead they tied it up that night and went on to win the chip in seven.

One of the best low-post threats basketball has ever seen. A true power forward, a footwork genius, a dependable scorer, and an almost decapitator. Kevin McHale is the 40th best player in the history of the NBA.


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