Forward Ralph Sampson of the Houston Rockets will not be suspended for punching two Boston Celtics Thursday night in Game 5 of the National Basketball Assn. championship series, but he probably will have to pay a stiff fine.
Rod Thorn, the NBA's vice president of operations, viewed several videotapes of the incident in the league's New York office Friday and said that fines for Sampson, and possibly other players who later joined the fight, will be announced Monday.
"By then, we'll have a fine schedule," Thorn said. "Nobody will be suspended, but the fines could very well be substantial."
When the NBA has announced fines in the past that it considered substantial, they have often been in excess of $1,000.
The most severe fine in NBA history was leveled against Kermit Washington in the 1977-78 season. Washington, then playing for the Lakers, was fined $10,000 and suspended for 60 days after punching Rocket forward Rudy Tomjanovich, who suffered compound facial fractures.
Sampson's salary this season is $1,165,500.
Sampson punched Jerry Sichting twice and Dennis Johnson once in the second quarter of the Rockets' 111-96 victory. Sichting was unhurt, and Johnson suffered only a minor cut near his left eye.
Game official Jack Madden ejected Sampson after the incident in the second quarter. In Thorn's opinion, Sampson was clearly the aggressor.
Thorn also said he had seen nothing in the videotape to support Sampson's contention that he was only trying to protect himself against rough treatment.
"In going over the tape from the time the game starts, Ralph probably got less bumping around than in any game so far," Thorn said. "I don't know what the deal was."
Sampson is 7 feet 4 inches and weighs 235 pounds. Sichting is 6-1 and 175, and Johnson is 6-4 and 200.
When the fight broke out, players from both teams left their benches, and several took part in the incident, which Thorn said he is still studying.
"It was a very emotional game, and both teams were fired up," Thorn said. "For Houston, one more defeat and they were out of it.
"As an ex-player, I can realize from time to time you can really get emotional in a game, but when you start punching people in the face, that's uncalled for," Thorn said. "That's one thing we can control."
Before a Rocket practice session Friday in Houston, Sampson said he hoped the league would consider all of the events leading up to the fight.
"(NBA officials) don't know what was said and done before the fight started," Sampson said.
Rocket teammate Jim Petersen said Sampson's actions were justified. "I think it was a situation where he just got provoked," Petersen said.
Any fine that Sampson is assessed will be in addition to an automatic $250 fine for being ejected. Any player who left the bench will automatically be fined $500. Thorn said, however, that the fines for those players could be more if they participated in the fight.
Sampson made a brief statement to reporters after Game 5 in which he said he was sorry that the fight had happened, but he stopped short of apologizing for his actions.
"The incident on the court was very unfortunate," Sampson said. "I thought a foul should have been called because someone jumped on me. I did what I had to do to protect myself."
Apparently, Thorn does not agree with Sampson's explanation.
"What I saw on the tape was Ralph and Sichting coming downcourt, and Ralph put an elbow up in (Sichting's) head," Thorn said. "Then Sichting picked up Ralph down low. He tried to push Ralph out and probably held him a little.
"Ralph punched Sichting, then took a step back and punched him again. D.J. (Johnson) intervened, probably as a peacemaker, and Ralph punched him, too.
"(Bill) Walton came over and tackled Ralph, which was probably a pretty good thing since Ralph was punching everybody in a green shirt who showed up.
"But I didn't see anybody hit or bump Ralph (to start the incident). When you're punching people in the face, you could severely hurt somebody."
Boston leads the Rockets, 3-2, in the best-of-seven series, and the Celtics can win their 16th NBA title with a victory in Game 6 Sunday afternoon at Boston Garden. Thorn thinks there will be no further violence.
"I don't anticipate anything else from the players," he said. "I don't really look for anything, because usually after a big fight, nothing happens in the next game. But our security measures will be more than adequate."