Sunday, December 17, 2006

Basketbrawl



The New York Knicks and the Denver Nuggets decided that scoring baskets weren't enough to decide their contest on Saturday night. They staged their own version of Boxing after Dark with about 90 seconds to go in their game. The brawl lasted for about a minute and Nuggets scored a knockout on a right hook delivered by Carmelo Anthony.

The brawl started when Mardy Collins committed a hard foul on J.R. Smith who had performed a circus dunk on the previous possession. The Nuggets were up by 19 points at the time and still had all their starters in the game. They were clearly enjoying the pounding that they were inflicting on the Knicks. It is an unwritten rule that a team will put in it's bench players when a game is beyond reach. The Nuggets didn't do this and it clearly got under the skin of some of the Knicks players.

The Nuggets coach George Karl is a former UNC player. I'm fairly sure that Karl doesn't exactly have the warmest feelings towards the Knicks considering their handling of the Larry Brown affair. Larry Brown is also a former UNC player and as everyone knows, the Tar Heel ties run very deep. Karl probably saw an opportunity to embarrass the Knicks at home and decided to keep his starters in to run up the score. Karl broke an unwritten rule in all of sports that you do not try and show up an opponent. His actions lit the fuse on what was to become an ugly scene at the Garden.

Nate Robinson is the person most responsible for the foul escalating to an all out brawl. He was the the third person in after the foul was committed and he proceeded to get into a wrestling match with Smith. Their fight spilled over the photographers and into the first row of fans seated behind the basket. The fact that the NBA immediately suspends players who leave the bench area during an on the court fight played in a big part in limiting the brawl to the players who were actually in the game. This could have turned really ugly, but the Garden security force also did a good job of maintaining order in the crowd. They kept them from getting involved with the players. Thankfully the scene was not reminiscent of the Pistons-Pacers brawl from two years ago.

Carmelo Anthony landed the only clean shot of the night when he sucker punched Mardy Collins and then took off back pedaling down the court. A few Knicks players had to be restrained as they tried to go after him, but he escaped retaliation. Anthony is currently the leading scorer in the NBA and has worked hard to repair his image after appearing in a video a few years ago that seemingly glorified drug use. Anthony is third member of the famed draft class of 2004 which included Dwayne Wade and LeBron James. He has lagged behind the other two in terms of endorsements and notoriety, but was on the road to making up some of that disparity this year. This incident will certainly bring him more notoriety but probably not the kind that he has been looking for.

NBA Commissioner David Stern will probably hand out stiff fines and suspensions to the main players in this drama. I would suspect that both Anthony and Robinson will be looking at suspensions in the 10 game range for their roles in the brawl. Collins and J.R. Smith will probably get one or two game suspensions as well. Stern has worked hard to change the image of the NBA. He has made the players wear suits on the sidelines and has changed the rules so that arguing calls brings an immediate technical foul. While he can make changes to the rules, he can't change the people who actually play the game. You can dress them up, but that doesn't change who they are. A lot of the players come from urban settings where reputation means everything. They will go to great lengths to protect that "rep". Fines and suspensions are not really on the minds of players during these heat of the moment incidents. Brawls on the court are more reminiscent of a playground fight rather than a disagreement between highly compensated professionals.

It's a shame that a basketball game came down to a street fight, but these things will happen occasionally. The only thing that we can be happy about is that the incident did not escalate and include the crowd. There's plenty of blame to go around for the brawl from the coaches to the players, but in the end it's impossible to legislate against aggression. That being said, David Stern is going to give it his best shot on Monday.

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