The Staples Center is made in classic Coliseum spherical style. One can make a complete revolution around the arena through the tunnel area. This allows easy access to both locker-rooms to those with backstage access.
Rick Fox was well aware of this when he cunningly met Doug Christie at the visitors entrance to finish a physical confrontation in a memorable exhibition game from the 2002-2003 NBA season.
The Sacramento Kings suffered a trifecta of defeats in the Western Conference playoffs to the three-time champion Lakers, the last of which was a 7-game heavyweight bout. After going up 2-1 and seizing home-court advantage, the Kings fell victim to Robert Horry’s epic Game 4 shot which served as the coup de grace in the playoff trilogy.
The Kings were flashier, but had been criticized for being too much of a finesse team that could not physically compete with the Alpha’s in the conference. Fox was the Lakers de facto enforcer who had gotten into Peja Stojakovic’s jersey and head in the previous two series. Stojakovic, Christie, and Hedo Turkoglu seemed to have wilted amid the harassment on defense.
The Lakers and Kings squared off in their preseason finale, and it was obvious early on that Sacramento wanted to ditch the soft label. Doug Christie immediately began to blanket Rick Fox on defense and drew an offensive foul after Fox caught him in the jaw with an elbow only two-minutes into the game. They got tangled up and Fox’s left hand slapped Christie in the jaw, who immediately retaliated with an uppercut to Fox’s chin.
After both players got tossed from the game, Fox ran off the court past the Lakers’ locker room and waited for Christie to enter the tunnel. Christie arrived to find Fox who put the unprepared Christie into a headlock. Shaquille O’Neal was involved in the scuffle in the tunnel, but he nor the Sacramento players who left the bench received any suspensions. Fox and Christie received six and two game bans respectively.
Though the teams would not meet again in tournament play, it wouldn’t be the last time they had conflict.
Later that season Shaquille O’Neal became the 28th player in NBA history to score 20,000 points in a Lakers’ 107-99 loss in Sacramento. On top of receiving boos during the halftime announcement of the milestone, someone at Arco Arena defaced the game ball presented to O’Neal.