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Brawl Helps Lakers End Lethargy on the Road : Pro Basketball: L.A. wins, 103-89, after Charlotte's Stuart Gray takes on all comers. He and Michael Cooper are ejected.

December 13, 1989|SAM McMANIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Chaos briefly reigned on the court once again here Tuesday night. Only this time, it was not the recently disorganized Laker offense running rampant.

No, a little more than a minute into the second quarter of what had been a sluggish contest between the Lakers and Charlotte Hornets, Hornet 7-footer Stuart Gray became enraged after fouling James Worthy. Gray tangled with no fewer than five Lakers, plus Coach Pat Riley. The fight, which resulted in ejections for Gray and the Lakers' Michael Cooper, proved an added incentive to the Lakers. Withstanding Gray's fury and the Hornets' repeated threats, they convincingly ended a two-game road losing streak with a 103-89 victory before 23,901 at the Coliseum.

"He was wild," Cooper said of Gray. "Totally out of control."

"This man from Charlotte is crazy," said Vlade Divac, the Lakers' Yugoslav import who caught part of Gray's wrath.

"He went after everyone in the facility," Magic Johnson said.

Slow in developing, the fight spread until players were strewn on the court like men on the streets of Pamplona after the running of the bulls.

The set-to began after Gray fouled Worthy hard under the basket. Worthy gave Gray a cold stare, apparently prompting Gray to lung at Worthy. Shoves were exchanged by the players, but that appeared to be the end of things.

Worthy walked away, but Gray was still seething. Gray turned and saw Divac standing close by and gave him a shove into a row of photographers. That act of aggression escalated tempers. Gray and Byron Scott then tangled, exchanging shoves.

Those tifts only proved undercards to the main event between the 245-pound Gray and Cooper, 6-7 and 176. Cooper, self-dubbed Laker body guard, flung himself at Gray, and the two tumbled to the ground. At one point, Gray had Cooper in a head lock.

Seeing that, Riley came from behind and tried to pull Gray off Cooper. Replays showed that Gray swung at Riley, and the Laker coach said later he felt something resembling a slap on the left side of his face. Finally, with Riley and Mychal Thompson nearly tearing Gray's shirt off, Gray was restrained.

Then came the penalty phase. At first, senior referee Paul Mihalek ejected Worthy along with Cooper and Gray. That would have been a major blow to the Lakers, trailing, 26-24, at the time. After protests from Riley and Johnson, the Lakers' captain, Mihalek overturned his original decision and called only a technical on Worthy for pushing Gray.

Gray, who attended UCLA and is J.R. Reid's backup with Charlotte, left the arena before the start of the second half. But, before departing, Gray told the Gastonia (N.C.) Gazette that "it's one of those things that is forgotten now. I don't want to say anymore about it."

The Lakers had plenty to say afterward. Though satisfied to end a two-game streak during which they blew significant fourth-quarter leads, Laker players were amazed by Gray's prolonged outburst.

Johnson, who had 27 points and 10 assists, said it was the longest, most randomly involved basketball-related fight he had witnessed.

"I'd never seen something like that," Johnson said. "Everything had stopped. He and James (shoved), but that was it. Then, all of a sudden, it just erupted. It all broke loose. It was incredible."

Cooper, who said he knew he would be ejected and probably fined heavily from the league if he intervened, said he did so anyway out of concern for his teammates.

"The guy was swinging on everybody," Cooper said. "I was trying to, as they say in the wild, wild West, uphold the peace. I'm not going to let anybody come at my teammates like that. It was a very aggressive foul on James. Once it happened, and then (Gray) goes after him, you got to protect (Worthy)."

Worthy had received a pass inside and was about to attempt a lay-in when Gray delivered an elbow from behind. The Lakers thought it was a blatant foul. It was nothing compared to the melee that followed.

Thompson and Riley said they got involved when they saw Cooper pinned to the court by Gray.

"I've seen one or two guys go crazy like that--I've seen Michael Cooper go that crazy," Riley said of Gray's antics. "I don't know what Stuart was thinking, but he was out of line. What he did was unconscionable."

Thompson said: "(Gray) was on my boy Coop, and I was tempted to kick him to get him off of Coop. He went crazy, but thank God it was only Stuart Gray and not someone like Akeem Olajuwon or Charles Barkley, somebody who could do some damage."

At first, it appeared the Lakers were getting the worst of the damage when Mihalek ejected both Worthy, who had 27 points and eight rebounds, and Cooper. But Mihalek said he caught his mistake and changed the call.

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