Note 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.
|Carmelo Anthony was one of 10 players ejected after the melee. (Getty Images)|
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.
But Stern was clearly annoyed by remarks from Thomas and the Knicks that the Nuggets were somehow responsible because they kept four starters on the floor late in the blowout.
The brawl began when Collins prevented Smith from an easy basket by grabbing him around the neck and taking him to the floor.
Smith got up and immediately started jawing with Collins, and Robinson jumped in to pull Smith away. Anthony shoved Robinson, and Robinson and Smith then tumbled into the front row while fighting.
Just as things appeared to be calming down, Anthony threw a hard punch that floored Collins. Jeffries sprinted from the baseline toward halfcourt in an effort to get at Anthony, but was tackled by a Denver player.
By the time security finally contained Smith, the players were nearly at the opposite end of the court from where things started.
In Denver, Karl was blunt with his criticism of Thomas.
"I think his actions after the game were despicable. He made a bad situation worse. I'll swear on my children's life that I never thought about running up the score. I wanted to get a big win on the road.
"My team has had trouble holding leads at the end of games," he added. "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."
The Nuggets saw a 25-point, first-half lead dwindle to just two points in the fourth quarter Monday night, but held on to beat the Washington Wizards 117-108 without its suspended players.
Thomas declined comment on Karl's remarks. His undermanned Knicks upset the Utah Jazz in overtime Monday night, 97-96, on a layup by Stephon Marbury just before the buzzer.
"We are in concurrence with whatever the league has offered us, and whatever the commissioner said we support and will abide by," Thomas said.
Karl has bigger problems now. He'll be without Anthony until the Nuggets' game at Houston on Jan. 20, and Smith will be gone until Jan. 8. That duo combines for more than 48 points a game.
"It's going to be tough," said Nuggets center Marcus Camby, one of the five players ejected who wasn't suspended. "It's already tough being in the Western Conference, and missing guys like J.R. and Carmelo is going to make it even worse."
Anthony's conduct represents a big blow to the All-Star player, team and league. He starred as a captain on the U.S. team at the world championships this summer, and had been getting more marketing opportunities as one of the league's brightest young stars.
Stern took none of that into account when issuing his decision.
"We judged him on his actions on the court, period," Stern said. "And they deserved a harsh penalty."