The door to the Lakers’ locker room opened only five minutes after Tuesday night’s 136-114 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 of the Western Conference championship series. It wasn’t to let the media enter, but rather to let Kareem Abdul-Jabbar flee the scene before anyone could ask him about the antics that led to a rare ejection.
Accompanied by a Forum usher, Abdul-Jabbar walked briskly down the tunnel leading to the nearest exit, not acknowledging a few writers who chased after him. In less than 20 seconds, Abdul-Jabbar was out the door and heading home.
So it wasn’t immediately known what prompted the usually composed Abdul-Jabbar to receive two technical fouls in less than a minute during the fourth quarter. In a particularly ugly incident that directly led to his ejection, Abdul-Jabbar climbed on Danny Schayes’ back and, according to Schayes, tried to gouge his eyes.
“I felt Kareem on my back and all of a sudden I’m on the ground,” Schayes said. “He was reaching around, scratching my face. He was trying for my eyes. He said something to me. He said, ‘How does it feel to have you’re eyes gouged out?’ I don’t think he meant it. . . . He has earned a reputation as a very class guy.”
Noticing the shocked look on reporters’ faces, Schayes pointed to his left eye, which was reddened and had a long scratch under it.
“Right there,” he said calmly.
Apparently, the incident that led to Abdul-Jabbar’s actions occurred a few seconds earlier, when Magic Johnson said Schayes elbowed him on the chin while fighting for a rebound. A scowling Johnson then approached Schayes, some shoving occurred, and then Abdul-Jabbar hopped on Schayes’ back.
“He (Schayes) elbowed me in the chin, and I went to tell him about it,” Johnson said. “Then, Kareem came in, and (Schayes) apparently just fell down.”
Said Schayes: “I don’t know if I elbowed Magic. When you’re going for a rebound, a lot of elbows fly. He thinks I did elbow him.”
A preliminary bout about 45 seconds earlier preceded Abdul-Jabbar’s piggy-back ride on Schayes. Abdul-Jabbar was trying to maintain his position in the low post, but Schayes was trying to deny it by conventional means--pushing and leaning on Abdul-Jabbar’s body.
A few angry shoves were exchanged--including Abdul-Jabbar shoving referee Wally Rooney aside--and Kareem had his first technical.
“I really didn’t expect a technical to be called on that first one,” Schayes said. “We were just pushing.”
All this took place after the Nuggets had pulled away from the Lakers in the fourth quarter and were only about six minutes away from evening the best-of-seven series at one game each.
Johnson said it wasn’t the Lakers’ frustrations showing; it was simply playoff basketball getting a little out of hand.
“I thought they were just more aggressive,” Johnson said. “Any time there is pushing and shoving through a game it builds up. As long as there were no punches thrown, it’s all right.”
Depending on which team you asked, the reason for the altercations was either the Nuggets playing overly aggressive (i.e. dirty) or the Lakers venting their frustrations or the referees Rooney and Jake O’Donnell letting the game get out of hand.
“We were playing,” Denver Coach Doug Moe said. “They were the ones throwing elbows and tackling us.”
Countered Laker Coach Pat Riley: “We’re usually pretty cool about these things. It happens in playoff games. There was a lot of pushing and shoving. But that’s not the story tonight. The story is that the Denver Nuggets played well and won.”
Riley, not wanting to add a fine to the loss, stopped short of blaming the referees.
“I’ve had my say about them (the referees) in the past,” he said. “All it does is empty my pockets. . . . We’re pros. We’ve got to go up to Denver and play basketball. Put the word basketball in quotes. Sometimes teams say they will stop our ability to play basketball by any means possible. We are going to play our game (in Game 3 Friday).