The NBA today suspended Jawann Oldham of the Chicago Bulls for one game and fined him $1,500 for apparently being the instigator of a brawl Tuesday night with Manute Bol of the Washington Bullets. Bol was fined $500.
A source in the league office said that, after reviewing films of the fight in the final 1:08 of the Bullets' 117-113 victory in Chicago, "While Bol might have been pushing underneath, it definitely looked like Oldham was the puncher and prolonger of the incident."
Bol and Oldham, whose suspension is without pay, also will lose $250, the automatic fine for being ejected from the game.
On the day after the fight, Bol was just as unflappable as he was in the Washington locker room after the game when he told reporters that if he were looking to fight, "I'd go to Libya and join the marines."
"Why he mess with me?" Bol asked this morning. "I have to show him, he can't punch me. I still have the pretty face."
With 1:08 to go, Oldham and Bol jockeyed for rebounding position under the Chicago basket and pushed each other heading upcourt. They exchanged several punches before they were separated, then Oldham pursued Bol and resumed punching near the press table. This fight was broken up by officials, coaches and players, but Oldham once again went after Bol and began punching a third time before he could be restrained.
Oldham did not answer questions from reporters.
In the aftermath of Bol's first NBA altercation, perhaps the best perspective was given by one onlooker, who leaned back into his chair afterwards and sighed: "Gee, now this guy is intimidating both mentally and physically."
After the tussle, two things have become clear. One is the regard that NBA players have for Bol, the league's leading shot blocker, and the other is that, just when you think Bol has said it all or done it all, there's something else to surprise you.
"I went out there trying to play peacemaker because I didn't want to see the little rascal get hurt," said the Bulls' Orlando Woolridge. "But that man is strong! I grabbed him and he was just about to swing, then he looked down and saw it was me and he stopped. I said 'Thank God.'
"He was tough! I think he began to revert back to the old country."
It was in the Sudan, Bol's homeland, where he killed a sleeping lion and began a story that has seemingly been repeated everywhere. Still, that didn't stop one Chicago journalist from walking up to Bol in the visitors' locker room after the game and asking in all seriousness: "Were you ever involved in any playground fights at school when you were little?"
Bol respectfully said no. Bullets forward Dan Roundfield has been, however, and when the fracas broke out he acted accordingly, slamming Oldham to the court with a flying tackle.
"I guess I only get a takedown, not a pin," he joked. "I just reacted. You see two men fighting, you're not going to let your own get beat. You never grab your own guy."
But with the exception of Oldham, everyone's concern was Bol's protection.
"With anyone else you would either let them go at it or try to help your teammate get the other guy," said Woolridge. "With him it's just -- different. I don't know if it's because he's new in the league or if it's because he's from Africa but I don't know anybody who doesn't like him."
One can presume that rather lengthy list doesn't include Oldham. The two men's paths first crossed less than a month ago, in a 98-92 Washington victory in Chicago on Dec. 19. In that game Bol thoroughly outplayed Oldham, despite the latter's claims beforehand that he would dunk in Bol's face.
Tuesday night, Oldham also was troubled by a terminally ill brother in Seattle. The center had returned to the Bulls less than a week before after a lengthy visit with him. While sympathetic, the league spokesman said that could not be a determining factor in trying to justify the fight.
"We're only concerned with what happens out on the floor," the league source said. "Once you put on the uniform and play, you're expected to conduct yourself accordingly."
Roundfield said his involvement ended with his throwdown of Oldham because "I can't afford any fines. I've got kids and mouths to feed. If Oldham had stopped earlier than he did, he might have saved some cash."
Although it would not have come as a surprise to anyone watching last night's Tuesday's game, The league announced today that Washington guard Leon Wood has been selected to participate in the NBA's first three-point shooting contest, in Dallas during the All-Star Game weekend, Feb. 7-9. Wood is second in the NBA in three-point percentage.