Kurt Rambis Is Brutally Honest About Kevin McHale’s Clothesline Foul 37 Years Later: ‘I Would Probably Be in Jail Right Now…’

Kurt Rambis is remembered for his hard work and rebounding on a Los Angeles Lakers team full of superstars. While Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and James Worthy were all getting the recognition, Rambis was busy doing the dirty work.

Rambis is also remembered for two other things. One is the glasses he wore, prompting the nickname “Superman” for his likeness to Clark Kent. The other is the clothesline foul he took from Boston Celtics forward Kevin McHale during the 1984 NBA Finals. Rambis opened up this week about what would have happened to him if he had a clear path at McHale after the incident happened.

Kurt Rambis took a cheap shot from Kevin McHale in Game 4 of the 1984 NBA Finals

Kurt Rambis of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates in the locker room after winning the 1988 NBA Finals, at The Forum, Los Angeles, California. | Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Celtics needed to spice things up after getting outplayed for the first three games of the 1984 NBA Finals. Despite the lopsided advantage in play, Boston trailed 2-1 in the series with Game 4 set to be played in LA. Boston was coming off a blowout loss, a game that prompted Celtics star Larry Bird to call out his team. Bird referred to his teammates as “sissies” for their soft play.

“I remember Larry saying something to the media about how soft the team is,” former Celtics guard Danny Ainge said during the Locked On Celtics podcast last year. “But every single person that was watching that film was completely embarrassed and humiliated by our effort in Game 3 in Los Angeles.”

Again, the Lakers had the better of play in Game 4, but that changed with the Lakers in front 76-70.

Rambis was out in front on a fast break after taking a pass from James Worthy. McHale stopped an easy layup by clotheslining Rambis and creating chaos on the court. Benches cleared, play was halted, and a spark was lit for the Celtics. Boston went on to tie the series with a 129-125 overtime victory.

Kurt Rambis: ‘I would probably be in jail if I had been able to do what I wanted to do’

Rambis caught up with former Lakers teammate Michael Cooper this week on his Showtime With Coop podcast. On the show, Cooper listed five people, one by one, and asked Rambis to mention what comes to his mind when he hears that person’s name. One of those names was Kevin McHale.

“Cheap-shot artist,” Rambis said immediately.

As Rambis went to mention how McHale was “highly skilled,” Cooper interrupted.

“Kurt, you can say something bad about that long-neck freak,” he said. “He clotheslined you, remember that.”

Rambis then dished out his true thoughts about McHale.

“You know, I would probably be in jail right now if I had been able to do what I wanted to do after he upended me,” Rambis said. “I was going after him. If you watch the tape, I’m headed right toward him. Worthy pushes me into the reporters, and I end up falling down. Larry Bird ends up helping me up.

“It’s just something you don’t do in basketball, so I was going after blood. If I had a clear path, I was going after him, so I may have gotten in a lot of trouble.

Rambis managed to find a little bit of humor in the incident

The clotheslining incident is a defining moment in the 1984 NBA Finals. It’s a play that should have fired up the Lakers and their home crowd. Instead, the Celtics appeared to have benefited from it. They rallied to tie the series and reclaim homecourt advantage. The Celtics capitalized by winning Game 5 in Boston. After the Lakers took Game 6, Boston closed out the series with a Game 7 win at home.

The Lakers blew the series. Bird admitted the Celtics were lucky to win that one. The Lakers used that series as motivation for the 1985 NBA Finals in a rematch with the Celtics. LA won that one in six games.

Thirty-seven years later, the clotheslining foul is still talked about. Rambis even managed to find a little humor in it.

“The funny thing about all that,” he said, “huge brawl, everybody’s pushing and shoving, benches are clearing, and the referees just go, ‘OK, Kurt just go shoot your two free throws and let’s keep playing.’ That was the end of it. There was no fine, nothing.”

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