Editor’s Note: Retro Jazz is a project with KSL Sports to post classic Jazz footage from their archives. Special thanks to KSL’s Jeremiah Jensen for his great work finding, editing, and sharing these clips.
The 1985 Playoffs were special for a lot of reasons. The previous season featured the team’s first trip the postseason and set the tone for the next two decades with a dramatic first-round win against the Denver Nuggets. In 1984-85 the team didn’t match their Midwest Division title of the year before, but Mark Eaton had a monster season on his way to earning the Defensive Player of the Year award. Larry Miller became a 50% owner of the team a week before the playoffs started. It was John Stockton’s rookie year, and the roster featured both a BYU guy (Fred Roberts) and a Utah guy (future commentator Pace Mannion).
Things didn’t look good for the Jazz in the deciding Game 5 in Houston after Eaton had to leave the game before halftime with a hurt knee. The Twin Towers of Akeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson took advantage and pushed the Rockets to a nine-point lead in the third quarter. Jazz coach Frank Layden was forced to counter with Rich Kelley and much-travelled Billy Paultz. And that’s when things got interesting.
The Whopper got under Olajuwon’s skin with his physical play, leading to one of the most famous punches in NBA history:
After the fact, the good people working at KSL Sports at the time somehow made the great decision to air a musical montage Billy Paultz highlight reel set to Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds.”
“He wasn’t part of their offense, all he was out there to do was get in my way,” Olajuwon wrote. “And he did. It was very irritating. He shadowed me, hung real close, and wouldn’t give me any room to move. When I tried to get some space he would flop, fall back like I’d hit him with a brick, and the referee would call a foul on me.
“I don’t like flopping; it is not real basketball,” he continued. “For some reason, that night the referees were letting him get away with it. He would flop, I’d get a foul. Flop, foul. They called me where he hit the ground and I hadn’t even touched him. He was a pest. I couldn’t even shrug him off because once I moved so much as an elbow Paultz would go crashing to the floor and the referee would whistle me again.
“I said, ‘Well, if you’re going to flop I might as well hit you for real.’ Ralph Sampson got a rebound and as soon as Paultz came over to cover me and flop, I hit him. I gave him a real good shot.”
Amazingly, Olajuwon was allowed to remain in the game after the punch. He was fined later, but can you imagine the response in today’s NBA? David Stern would be apoplectic.
The Deseret News write-up for the game takes a fantastic tangent, with a quote by Paultz in response to the takedown of Houston’s “Twin Towers,” leading to a mention of a ninja movie filmed in Salt Lake. I can’t make this stuff up:
“Me and Kelley, we’re the American Towers,” said Paultz. “That’s where we live in Salt Lake City.”
The two reserve postmen — Paultz has been in the pros for 15 years and Kelley for 10 — reside during the basketball season in condominiums in the downtown American Towers.
The condominium project’s only known previous national publicity came two years ago when a lengthy karate fight scene was filmed on the building’s roof in a forgettable film called “Revenge of the the Ninja.”
Kelley and Paultz easily became the Towers’ most famous tenants by their work Sunday, which was aired on CBS.
Thankfully the internet exists and you can now watch this clip from Revenge of the Ninja:
Warning: There’s a semi-gruesome kill scene at the end of this clip, so don’t watch it if you don’t like 80s ninja violence on the top of SLC buildings.