NEW YORK - The NBA came down hard on the New York Knicks and the Denver Nuggets, and none of the brawlers was spared.
Not Carmelo Anthony, the NBA’s leading scorer, who got the harshest punishment, a 15-game suspension. And not the teams themselves, who were fined an unprecedented half-million dollars each Monday.
“I was very disappointed,” Commissioner David Stern said. “Clearly, we’re not getting through or players in certain circumstances just don’t want to be restrained. I would suggest that those players will not have long careers in the NBA.”
In all, seven players were suspended for a fight that spilled into the stands at Madison Square Garden with just over a minute left in Saturday night’s game. The penalties were without pay, costing Anthony about $641,000 in salary.
Also suspended: New York’s Nate Robinson and J.R. Smith of the Nuggets, 10 games; New York’s Mardy Collins, six; teammate Jared Jeffries, four. The Knicks’ Jerome James and the Nuggets’ Nene each were penalized one game for leaving the bench area during the chaos.
Though there was no separate penalty for Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, who warned Anthony not to go into the lane before the mayhem started, Nuggets coach George Karl singled him out for the sharpest criticism, calling his actions “despicable.”
“There’s no question in my mind it was premeditated,” said Karl, whose team now faces an even tougher time making the playoffs. “He made a bad situation worse. He’s a jerk for what he’s trying to do.”
It was the NBA’s scariest scene since the brawl between Indiana Pacers players and Detroit Pistons fans two years ago. The league is still recovering from that episode, and Stern made it clear the players needed to control themselves — or else.
“We have set up the goal of eliminating fighting from our game. We haven’t eliminated it completely,” Stern said.
The record fines were “more general message that I’m going to start holding our teams accountable,” he said.
Asked about the previous largest fine for on-court misbehavior, the NBA couldn’t find anything remotely close.
NBA players’ union director Billy Hunter said he would talk to Anthony and his agent Tuesday before deciding whether to pursue an appeal.
“I think that 15 is a bit heavy,” Hunter said. “I don’t think 15 games is necessary. I think it’s out of whack compared to what been imposed in the past.”
If there’s any upside to the story, it’s that the Knicks and Nuggets won’t play again this season.
“The incident was deeply regrettable, unacceptable on every level and I hope and expect to never witness anything like it again. We are all very sorry it happened,” Garden chairman James Dolan said.
The fight started just as Denver’s 123-100 victory was wrapping up, and 10 players were ejected.
Stern was especially troubled by the fight between Robinson and Smith that landed in the seats.
“My concern is actually for the safety of the players and the fans, and when things get out of hand you cannot predict or project where they’re going to go,” Stern said. “There were certain players who weren’t going to allow themselves to be calmed.”
There was speculation Thomas would be penalized for his comments to Anthony. Stern acknowledged hearing about it, but said he relied only on “definitive information” when handing out punishments.
Y! Sports: For Roy Hibbert, a sense of ownership means knowing he should have fought to get in the game with two seconds remaining in overtime, when his absence allowed LeBron James to hit the winning lay-up.
Dec. 18: The NBA is dealing with another PR problem in the wake of the Nuggets-Knicks brawl Saturday night. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.
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