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Fur Flies Early for Lakers, Kings

Fox, Christie face fines and suspensions after extended skirmish in final exhibition game.

October 26, 2002|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

Through a rivalry recently turned nasty, the Lakers and Sacramento Kings hadn't actually hit each other in the mouth, but now that last bit of decorum is gone too.

Two minutes and seven seconds into Friday night's exhibition game at Staples Center, Rick Fox fought King guard Doug Christie twice, once on the floor and again in a tunnel leading to the Kings' locker room. The second drew most of the Kings from their bench, along with Laker center Shaquille O'Neal, though apparently no one was injured.

"It makes it personal," Kobe Bryant said.

With opening night Tuesday, Fox and Christie face almost certain fines and suspensions by the league office. Denver's Juwan Howard, who threw two punches in an exhibition game this week, was suspended two games and fined $15,000, and O'Neal missed Brad Miller with a punch last season and was suspended three games.

Playing against the backdrop of last spring's Western Conference finals, won by the Lakers in a searing, emotional seven games, and a summer spent insulting each other's franchises, the Lakers and Kings -- "Queens," according to O'Neal -- met in the final preseason game for both, the Kings winning, 93-88.

An hour before, O'Neal had said the talk was simply that, a way to market the league and a rivalry that had grown taut through each of the past three postseasons, all ending for the Kings with losses to the Lakers.

At the end of five months of trash talking, there were two minutes of basketball, followed by Fox grabbing the basketball on the left wing, Christie apparently too close. Fox, feisty in the most common circumstances, swung an elbow that clipped Christie near the face, and Christie fell to the floor with some exaggeration.

Fox, called for an offensive foul, let the ball fall, and Christie flipped it back at him, into his face. With an open hand, Fox pushed Christie in the face, and then Christie hit Fox in the chin with a short left.

"As a man, you have to be able to say that I am not going to take that from nobody," King guard Bobby Jackson said.

As the crowd gasped, referees and players from both sides stepped between the fighting players -- too late in Laker Coach Phil Jackson's opinion -- and that appeared to end it. The three officials huddled and shortly thereafter it was announced that Fox and Christie had been ejected.

Fox then darted from the Laker bench, through the tunnel, down a hallway that separates the locker rooms and to the mouth of the Kings' tunnel, where he met Christie coming off the floor.

"He threw the ball in Rick's face," Laker forward Samaki Walker said. "Like any man in this league, you're not going to let a man hit you in the face."

According to witnesses, Fox put a headlock around Christie, who threw several more punches at Fox, some of which Fox returned. The two grappled there until they were engulfed by Kings rushing from their bench and arena security personnel, then fell into a black curtain.

"Crazy people. Stupid people. Seriously," King center Vlade Divac said. "Rick is the guy who did something. But Doug also crossed the line."

Asked if Fox went too far by racing to confront Christie, Divac raised his eyebrows and said, "He went way too far. He went overseas and came back, if you talk about distance."

Fox left the building without comment. Only Jackson blamed the officials.

"Someone should have stepped in immediately," Jackson said. "I don't think Rick was at fault at all, trying to hold him off, putting his hand up."

Jackson suggested the Kings should bear repercussions for leaving their bench en masse, while he tried to hold back his players.

"It's going to be a lot of sorting it out," he said. "I know my players felt extremely uncomfortable with knowing Rick was by himself with the entire other team in the runway."

O'Neal, who chased Fox from the floor and into the sea of Kings, was seen protecting Fox in the tunnel, his plaid outfit unmistakable in the melee. A witness said O'Neal was there as peacekeeper, and that at one point he shoved Divac, a moment Divac affably called "a misunderstanding."

"I just had to make sure [stuff] was right," O'Neal said.

So the Lakers, already short O'Neal to start the season, likely also will be without Fox. And while Fox appeared to instigate the fights, it was Christie who threw and landed the only closed-fisted punch.

The Lakers and Kings don't play in the regular season until Christmas Day.

*

Bryant had 23 points and 12 assists against the Kings.... Guard Jannero Pargo, an undrafted free agent from Arkansas, has made the team, Jackson said. Mark Madsen, who has a strained hamstring, could start the season on the injured list.

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