I am sure you’re all aware of the brawl at MSG Saturday night, precipitated by a flagrant foul by the Knicks’ Mardy Collins on the Nuggets J. R. Smith. I think it’s a misnomer to call it a hard foul, because that implies that Collins, in the course of making a legitimate defensive play, also made significant, even intentional physical contact. Collins did make significant, intentional physical contact, but he was not, in my judgment making a legitimate defensive play. He was simply trying to take Smith’s head off while Smith was going in for a lay-up/dunk in the waning moments of a Nuggets’ rout. As first reported by ESPN.com’s Chris Sheridan, Collins may have been ordered to do what he did by Isiah, in retaliation for the Nuggets leaving all their starters in despite being up twenty with under two minutes left in the game.
Henry, at True Hoop, worries that this is exactly the kind of thing that will bring the racists out of the woodwork:
“This incident will probably pass without damaging the league too much, but it's not just an "oops." It's the kind of thing the league and players certainly can't afford to have happen very often. It really does hurt ticket sales, TV ratings, and the ability of most people to look up to these players.
And every now and again, after something like that, I'll hear some racist crack. Racists are always waiting for an opportunity to paint the NBA as a bunch of out-of-control black players. It kills me to have these highlights all over the TV, knowing racist idiots in sports bars somewhere are seeing them and feeling vindicated.
This kind of stuff costs the players and the league dignity, trust, and respect. Those things are essential to a good life, and they're hard to earn back.”
He wrote that in the immediate aftermath of the brawl, and perhaps when the returns from the sports talk radio precincts start coming in today, we’llhear more about that, but that has not been the emphasis of the coverage so far.
The Sports Reporters discussed the brawl yesterday morning on ESPN:
Mike Lupica considered Collins’ shot completely out of bounds, regardless of the score and situation.
Mitch Albom agreed with Lupica and lamented that “players seem to want to settle issues of ‘respect’ with their fists” and, along those lines, thought that the notion of committing a hard foul because you don’t want to be disrespected in your own building is ludicrous: “If you don’t want to get embarrassed, play better.” Lupica, Bob Ryan and host John Saunders all seemed to agree that Collins (and Isiah’s) reactions were far more worthy of contempt than the Nuggets running up the score. As Ryan put it, concerning Thomas’ complaints about who was on the floor at the end of the game for Denver, “he has enough trouble coaching his own team without telling someone else how to coach their’s.”
The speculation this morning is that ‘Melo will receive somewhere in the neighborhood of an 8-12 game suspension, while other principals, including Nate Robinson, Collins and Smith will be sat down for 3-5 games.
Albom wanted to see much harsher penalties – he argued that ‘Melo should be suspended through the first round of the playoffs. And, it’s clear that the league will be especially concerned about the image the fight projects – it’s the worst brawl since the 2004 melee in Detroit that could be said to have ushered in a new era in NBA history – call it the zero-tolerance, zero non-conformity era.
And, I know that the NHL has cracked down on fighting, but it’s still striking to me that people think a single fight in the NBA requires players to lose entire seasons when no one got hurt and no fans were involved, when hockey players fight all the time, and sometimes commit serious felonies on the ice without similar cries (except in the most extreme cases).
A lot of the focus is on whether Isiah Thomas, as mentioned above, ordered Collins to take outSmith.
After the game, Thomas said he told Anthony:
“I just said to him: ‘You’re up 19 with a minute and a half to go. You and Camby really shouldn’t be in the game right now.’ We had surrendered. And those guys shouldn’t have been in the game at that time,” Thomas said. “They were sticking it to us pretty good. They were having their way with us pretty good. I think J. R. Smith had just made one dunk where he reverses it and spins in the air. I thought that Mardy didn’t want to have our home crowd see that again and he fouled him.”
But, video of Thomas talking to Anthony just prior to the brawl appears to confirm what ‘Melo says Thomas told him, that it wouldn’t be a good idea for Anthony to go to into the lane.
The Daily News’ Frank Isola notes that Isiah and Denver Nuggets’ coach George Karl, who is Larry Brown’s best friend, have exchanged angry words before about Thomas’ treatment of Brown last season, and there’s talk that Karl left his players in late to show up Isiah. Isola also notes that Isiah has had run-ins with other teams over their tactics and approaches since the beginning of the season, including complaints about Bruce Bowen’s defensive tactics and complaints about the Pacers excessively celebrating on the Knicks’ home floor earlier in the season. He also traded insults with the Nets’ coaching staff during the pre-season.
Leaving aside the NBA’s reputation, which I think will not be especially adversely affected by this fight, a couple of key threads are beginning to emerge.
1) no one is giving Thomas any slack for complaining about the Nuggets’ leaving their players in. On Mike and Mike this morning, John Seibel and Mike Golic both echoed the sentiments of Albom – if you don’t want to be embarrassed, play better. The Knicks stink, everyone knows it, and Thomas’ complaining just sounds like sour grapes. Terry Frei of the Denver Post says Thomas is a “baby” and should be dealt with harshly by the league:
“The Knicks' president and coach should be banished from the bench for 20 games - plus receive a commensurate staggering fine, in case Thomas considers not having to coach the ragtag roster he has assembled to be a reward, not a punishment.
What a baby.
The Nuggets, with four starters still in the game when they led by 19 with 1:50 left, were pouring it on? What was this, a CYO league for 11-year-olds with a ban on full-court presses when the leads reach 20, and a mercy rule when they hit 40? Were the Knicks going to get treated to milkshakes at White Castle for trying hard in the face of adversity?”
If it’s true that Karl was trying to show up the Knicks, that is part a reflection of the lack of respect that, it seems, much of the league has for Isiah and Knicks’ management, who have turned one of the league’s signature franchises into a laughing-stock. And, it’s bad enough that Isiah, and his boss, Jim Dolan, are as incompetent as they are. What’s worse is the degree of their denial about their incompetence. With a payroll tens of millions of dollars larger than any other team, a forfeited lottery pick in 2006 and another forfeited one coming in 2007, not only are the Knicks terrible now. They’ve also locked themselves into a hole that will take at least three years to dig out of. In this context, Thomas had no good will going into this incident, and that’s been reflected in the coverage.
2) As, I mentioned above, I don’t this fight really says a whole lot about the league, or respect, or anything. Every sport has its brawls and the NBA has been notably tame the past couple of years. And, even this fight wasn’t really a serious fight. It was a lot of angry people running around, but little contact being made. But, it’s becoming clear that, aside from Isiah, it is shaping up as a statement about one of the league’s marquee young players, Anthony.
In the New York Times today, Liz Robbins writes:
“Carmelo Anthony wanted to be a first-time All-Star this season, and was playing like a most valuable player contender.
He was the best player on the United States men’s basketball team at the world championship last summer, when he remade his image on the court.
And after spending $1.5 million to open a youth center with his name on it in Baltimore on Thursday, Anthony, 22, appeared to have the N.B.A. in the palm of his hand.
But with one close-fisted punch Saturday night, he might have undone all the good he had created.”
How Anthony is judged in this, therefore, doesn’t just affect the Nuggets (who will be losing their star player for a while) and Anthony. It affects the league as well. In this regard, I thought Anthony’s statement of apology was noteworthy. From ESPN.com, here it is:
“Last night's altercation with the Knicks escalated further than it should have. I take full responsibility for my actions in the matter," Anthony said in a statement. "In the heat of the moment I let my emotions getthe best of me. I apologize to the fans, the Denver Nuggets, the NBA, my mother, and my family for the embarrassment I have caused them. I ask you all for your forgiveness.
"I also want to make a personal apology to Mardy Collins and his family. My actions were inexcusable, and I am sorry for making this an even more embarrassing situation.
"What makes this all the more painful is that this was one of the biggest weeks of my life. I just realized one of my biggest dreams when we opened the Youth Center in Baltimore that bares my name. To see the community excited and hundreds of kids smiling was an incredible feeling. Now the thought of thousands of kids seeing this incident on TV pains me. This is not the example I want to set.
"It's my hope that we work to move forward from this event, and never let something like this happen again.”
What’s noteworthy here isn’t the apology itself, but the reminder of the good works that Anthony is engaged in. I have certainly seen apologies before that insert some generic disclaimer like: “I hope I am not judged on this one bad act” or something to that effect. But, to provide details about Anthony’s charitable activities in an apology about an unrelated on-court incident strikes me as novel.
Anthony’s got damage control to do, but he’ll survive this incident, reputation more or less intact (as long as it doesn’t happen again). Isiah, on the other hand, continues to be the least respected executive in the NBA, and no amount of hard-fouling by Mardy Collins, or any other Knick, is going to change that.
Mike and the Mad Dog are talking with their callers about the brawl.
For them, the two unforgiveable actors in this are Anthony (he's just
been suspended for 15 games) and Nate Robinson (suspended for ten games
for, essentially, being the third man in).
One caller called into say that the brawl Saturday night was all about the "hip hop culture." Russo responded that: "well,
we knew this would come up – now this gets
into a whole different area” and Francesa jumped into say that there's
been fighting in the NBA for a long time. He recalled fights between
Kevin McHale and Kurt Rambis, Happy Hairston and Kareem in 1972, and
many others besides. Russo interjected that he thought there was
something tothis "hip hop" thing. A subsequent caller said he was
offended by the claim that this was about a "culture" and argued that
no one attributed all the fighting in the NHL to "rock and roll
culture." Russo told the caller that that was an unfair charge because
a) the NHL has cleaned the game up and b) because when the NHL had all
that fighting, he and Francesa used to kill it.
course, the key issue the caller raises is not whether people
considered the fighting in the NHL bad. Instead, it's whether the NHL's
fighting was attributable to a larger culture, the way any NBA incident
is automatically painted as a cultural issue.
despite Russo's evident beliefs about the NBA, there's a fascinating
dynamic going on right now. Francesa and Russo are clearly sensitive to
callers overstating the case against the NBA. When one caller described
the players who fought as "thugs" who are showing their true mentality,
Francesa and Russo attacked him, describing him as going too far and
saying that he's painting every NBA player with too broad a brush. In
addition, in a theme that the two have been airing a lot lately (and
which I have discussed numerous times), Francesa in particular has been
harping on the double standard that lets the NFL get away with murder.
Francesa has asked, several times this hour, what would have happened
if an NBA player had just had his bodyguard killed three days after
himself having been arrested on weapons charges? (this is what happened
to the Bears' Tank Johnson last week).
So, Francesa and Russo are certainly willing to concede that the NBA is subject to heightened scrutiny for its transgressions. For Francesa, the reason is that people just don't like the NBA anymore, though he won't say that it's because of race. Russo will say it's about race, but will still bristle at callers who consider race to be an unfair basis for the harsh reaction to the NBA.