the Celtics Beagle on the latest CBW editorial Another season, another fight.
December 16 appears destined to be a day of infamy for the NBA.  On this night, the New York Knicks were hosting the Denver Nuggets.  The game was nearly over, with 1:23 left in the game and the Nuggets up by 19.  Apparently, Denver player J.R Smith was trying for back-to-back dunks when New York player Mardy Collins clotheslined him, having had enough of Denver showing off with a big lead and leaving their starters in the game.  

That started a wild fight, where in the midst of it all, Nate Robinson and J. R. Smith were so intent on beating each other to a pulp that they ended up in the stands still going at each other.   Coaches, refs, and security finally had to break everyone up on and off the court.   When a frighteningly similar fight between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, severe measures were taken.  Indiana, once considered a mortal lock to make the NBA Finals, spent all season juggling lineups as several key players, including Ron Artest, served what were then the longest fight-related suspensions in NBA history.

Granted, it's a valid point that when you're up 20 with 90 seconds left in the game, your starters have no business being in the game, as Denver did; and you shouldn't be stupid enough to try embarrassing the home team like Smith did.

But that's no excuse for what happened.  This was such a brawl that ALL TEN PLAYERS on the court at the time were ejected.  For the Nuggets, it was Marcus Camby, Andre Miller, Eduardo Najera, J. R. Smith, and Carmelo Anthony.  On the Knicks, it was Channing Frye, David Lee, Mardy Collins, Nate Robinson, and Jared Jeffries.

This needs to stop.  The League tried to be reasonable last time and apparently nobody listened.  All ten players should be suspended without pay for the season, and anyone throwing honest-to-god punches should be suspended next season as well.  Further, I think the league should make both teams forfeit their remaining regular seasons games against each other, as well as this game.  That's right, losses for both teams.  Then there should be fines commensurate with their utter failure to act like adults.  $500,000 each for the players, and another $500,000 for the idiot who started it.

Sooner or later, if this keeps up, someone is going to be seriously hurt or killed.  The League has to be tough here, otherwise it WILL happen again.  Last time, an arbitrator softened some of the measures taken against players.  No more.  The NBA needs to send a clear message, and if someone tries to mitigate it, then the NBA should file criminal charges against all 10 players who fought, and the coaches, for facilitating this.  George Karl, especially, needs to explain why his starters were in a game they had zero chance of losing.  It's no less than taunting the team and running up the score.  It would be one thing if the bench was playing, but why is it that Carmelo Anthony, etc., were out there in the first place?

Everyone is waiting for the League's official reaction.  It won't be long, as they're headquartered in NYC.  I expect they've already got game tapes.  If they really, truly, want this not to happen again, both the players and their teams need to face unprecedented sanctions for their actions out on the court.  I, for one, urge the League to take the most drastic measures permissible under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. 

This HAS to be the last time, before someone is hurt, or even killed for this stupidity.

Addendum, December 18:  Today, the NBA handed out it's lackluster punishments to New York and Denver.  Carmelo Anthony of the Nuggets will sit out 15 games.  Teammate J. R. Smith wil be out 10 games, as will Nate Robinson of the Knicks.  The Knicks lose Mardy Collins and Jared Jeffries for 6 and 4 games respectively; as teammate Jerome James and Denver's Nene each sit for 1 game.  Each team was fined $500,000 as incentive to stop turning basketball games into street fights.

Citing a lack of "definitive information", NBA Commissioner David Stern failed to impose any kind of fine on Knicks Coach Isiah Thomas, despite public statements that just before the hard foul that started things off, Thomas specifically warned Carmelo Anthony to stay out of the paint.  Thomas doesn't deny he said that, but offers up the lame excuse that he was trying to impart a lesson in sportsmanship.  This from the guy who recently yelled at his team to "break the feet" of an opposing player.

Thomas is skating because Stern is trying to be fair--Stern knows, as do we all, that Coach Thomas essentially ordered the deliberate hard foul.  Not that Mardy Collins seemed in any way adverse to taking down an oponent by the neck.   Stern, an attorney, believes in punishing what he can prove.  But this is not a court of law, and it's not a democracy, it's the NBA--as the many fines levied against Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for public mouthing off clearly show.

 Thomas should have been suspended for the season--and, frankly, the team should fire him for cause, but that's their problem.  I stated earlier, and still firmly believe, that everyone involved in the fight should have sat out the season.  Yes, that essentially ends Denver's season--and the Knicks weren't going anywhere but the lottery anyway--but nobody, aside from Thomas, ordered them to commit acts of incredible stupidity that endangered  players and fans alike.  The NBA missed a chance to come down on this with both feet. 

The annoying part is that even the 15 game suspencion for Anthony can he hypothetically appealed, since the CBA allows arbitration of any suspension longer than 12 games.  Since several people are mouthing platitudes like "It's not as bad as the Pacers/Pistons brawl", any arbitration will likely benefit Anthony.  Baloney.  Any time you have every player on the court fighting, with at least two of them spilling over into the front row, it's every bit as bad.  Just not as visibly disturbing.

I haven't forgotten George Karl, who also seems incapable of keeping his big mouth shut.  Today, he insisted that having his starters on the floor with 75 seconds left in a 19 point blowout was not meant to run up the score, going so far as to literally swear on his children's life.  One wonders, then what boneheaded, asinine reason he had for risking serious injury to his starters in a game there was no way to lose.  He said, "My team has had trouble holding leads at the end of games.  I didn't want the score to get under 10 points because if it would've gotten under 10 points it would've had a negative feeling on my team."

Nice to know that George has so little faith in his team that he thinks the bench can blow a 19 point lead in 75 seconds.  If they're THAT bad, they DESERVE to lose the lead.  For the sole reason that I don't want to offend George's kids, I won't call him a snivelling liar.  I will however, state my belief that he's a lousy coach.  Sadly, there is no fine for running up the score, and no restrictions on keeping your starters on the floor at the end of a blowout.  Even though an owner can be easily fined for mcomplaining about the game, a coach can't be punished for sabotaging it?  Bleah.

As in the case with Thomas, David Stern is settling for what he can "prosecute", or at least decently prove in the legal sense.  That's one of the real tragedies, that the two men most clearly responsible for the chain of events leading up to the fight and it's aftermath have essentially gone unpunished.

Some time in the future, when there's another fight--and with fainthearted efforts at punishment like this, there WILL be another one--someone will wail, "if only they'd gotten tougher back when that brawl in New York happened, this person wouldn't be dead/permanently injured."

Believe me, it's a hell of a lot cheaper to pay now than later.  I implore the Commissioner to revisit the siutuation regarding Thomas and Karl and mete out the suspensions they so richly deserve.  Also, the players involved need to be held out longer than a handful of games.  The price of doing this needs to be too high to pay, if there's any hope of precenting another act of blatant idiocy like what happened in New York.