Stern Justice: Carmelo Anthony Suspended for 15 GamesThe verdict is in from Commissioner David Stern regarding Saturday night's fiasco at Madison Square Garden:
* The Knicks and Nuggets have each been fined $500,000
* Carmelo Anthony has been suspended for 15 games
* Nate Robinson has been suspended for 10 games
* J.R. Smith has been suspended for 10 games
* Mardy Collins has been suspended for six games
* Jared Jeffries has been suspended for four games
* Jerome James has been suspended for one game
* Nene has been suspended for one game
Before I comment on Commissioner Stern's ruling, here is the statement that he issued at the time that the suspensions were announced:
The NBA and its players represent a game of extraordinary skill, athleticism and grace, and, for good or bad, set an example for the entire basketball world, on and off the court. On the positive side, there is our players’ passion for the game, engagement with our fans, commitment to their communities and respect for the history and tradition of the game. With respect to the negative, while we have worked diligently to eliminate fighting from our game, there are failures such as Saturday night at Madison Square Garden that demonstrate there is still more to be done.
It is our obligation to take the strongest possible steps to avoid such failures in the future and to make a statement to all who follow the game of basketball that we understand our obligations and take them seriously. Accordingly, I am issuing the penalties listed below, and will take the occasion to set forth some of the considerations that have influenced my decision here and will continue to guide us as we seek to demonstrate our determination that the NBA and its players be viewed as standing for the best in sports.
Among the considerations that influenced my decision:
Teams will be held accountable for the actions of their employees – management and players alike.
Players must take advantage of a break or pause in a heated situation to stop and restore order, instead of escalating the situation.
Players must heed directions from referees and others who are trying to maintain order and not continue to put fans, referees and peacemakers in harm’s way.
In case his determination to eliminate this nonsense from the NBA is not 100% clear, Commissioner Stern added these comments after his prepared statement: "We're going to go after the players who aren't able to stop. We have set up the goal of eliminating fighting from our game. 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. What happened Saturday night will stop because that is not what we're about."
My bottom line take on this is that Commissioner Stern has done an outstanding job of both issuing the correct penalties and clearly explaining the reasons for these punishments. It is important to note that he fined both of the involved teams, a step that he did not take two years ago after the infamous Pistons-Pacers brawl. Commissioner Stern explained simply, "If you continue to employ employees who engage in these actions, your organization is going to have to pay a price." Make no mistake that if there is another such incident that he will not only increase that fine but very possibly suspend coaches, general managers or any other team officials that he deems responsible. That brings us to Knicks Coach Isiah Thomas. Members of the media, fans and Nuggets Coach George Karl have all clamored for Thomas to be punished. Their ire is based on lip reading some remarks that Thomas directed toward Anthony moments before Collins' flagrant foul on Smith instigated the melee and on Thomas' postgame comments that blamed Karl for keeping his starters on the court when the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt. Watching the tape, Thomas appears to tell Anthony that it would not be a good idea for Anthony to go into the paint. Thomas is smiling and laughing when he says this. Was that a veiled threat? Was it gamesmanship? Was it, as the Knicks are now suggesting, Thomas simply asking Anthony to ease up and show more class than Karl and not run up the score any further? I defy anyone to watch that film clip and state with certainty exactly what Thomas meant. Moreover, do we know what kind of dialogue went on between the two of them before the now infamous clip that has been shown, Zapruder-like, countless times? Commissioner Stern's response to this is that he issued his punishments based on "definitive information." He understands that you cannot suspend someone based on lip reading.
Anthony correctly received the lengthiest suspension. I thought that he would get at least 10 games and would not have been surprised if he got 20, so 15 sounds about right. Any suspension of more than 12 games can be appealed to an arbitrator, so his punishment could still be reduced. Anthony hit Collins with a punch after the initial confrontation had settled down, thereby reigniting tempers. Commissioner Stern did not mention anything about punching someone who is being restrained and then running away like a little punk, but Anthony--who received criticism for appearing on the infamous "Stop Snitching" video--surely damaged his "street credibility" with that move. What the players--Anthony in particular--fail to understand is that they are no longer playing in the parks or playing in small high school gyms. Each of them is a walking conglomerate and they are being paid significant sums of money by their teams and their commercial endorsers. They have an obligation to stay healthy so that they can perform for their teams and to avoid doing anything that reflects badly on their business partners. Anthony may have cost his team a playoff berth. All of the players risked bodily harm that could impact their own careers and the fortunes of the teams that employ them. In addition, this situation potentially endangered some courtside fans--the very people who are paying the players' salaries by buying tickets, merchandise and the products that are advertised during NBA telecasts. The possibility of having brawling players land in your lap (or worse) is not likely to increase attendance. Steve Kerr put it best in Monday's USA Today by saying that players must learn how to "act tough." Kerr is a former player and he acknowledged that if a player does nothing he will be considered "soft." So, you stand your ground, you run your mouth and you wait for someone to separate the involved parties.
Robinson and Smith received the second biggest suspensions because of their roles in escalating the situation. Smith should have gone to the foul line and shot his free throws. Yes, Collins hit him with a cheap shot, but the officials correctly called a flagrant foul and that should have been the end of it. Instead, after Robinson came over and started flapping his gums, the two of them grappled with each other until they tumbled into the crowd. Robinson seemed like he was anxious to start a fight with anyone.
Collins' flagrant foul on Smith was not just a hard foul--it was a cheap shot on a player who was in a defenseless and vulnerable position. I think that the foul alone was worth a suspension of one or possibly two games. Considering that his actions set in motion the chain of events that led to this fiasco, it is entirely justifiable to increase that one or two game number to six even though Collins did not appear to do anything wrong after the initial foul.
Jeffries ran after the retreating Anthony in the wake of Anthony's sucker punch to Collins' face. The NBA wants players to act in a way to defuse these situations, not exacerbate them, so four games is a good amount of time for Jeffries to think about this. Hopefully, a four game punishment is enough to dissuade other players from acting similarly.
James and Nene received automatic one game suspensions for leaving the bench area during an altercation. Commissioner Stern instituted this rule many years ago and famously suspended Patrick Ewing for a playoff game when Ewing took a few innocent steps on to the court to observe one of the many New York-Miami fights in the 1990s. That made it clear that this rule is enforced without exception, with no regard to superstar status or the "importance" of the next game. The reasoning behind the rule is very sound: there are already 10 players on the court, plus 3 officials; it is their responsibility, along with security personnel and both teams' coaches, to resolve any on court altercations. Players coming on to the court only add to the confusion and the tension. The ugliest incident in NBA history--Kermit Washington's punch that almost killed Rudy Tomjanovich--happened when Tomjanovich ran in to be a peacemaker and Washington, seeing someone running toward him wearing another team's jersey, wheeled around and hit him in the face. Tomjanovich was trying to be a peacemaker (and had in fact been one of the players on the court at the time) but the NBA wants to minimize the chances of such a horrible event ever happening again. This is not the NHL, where players maul each other while the officials skate around in circles making notes on little index cards; the NBA is strictly about the game and players who do not understand that will end up pursuing other employment opportunities.
Fighting is not that prevalent in the NBA precisely because of the rules that Commissioner Stern has established and the fact that he has been firm about enforcing these rules. The sad thing is that negative situations like Saturday's brawl receive so much attention that it gives NBA haters an excuse to say that the league is filled with thugs, which is not an accurate statement at all. The league does have some young players who have maturity and anger-control issues (look at the ages and amount of college playing experience of several of the individuals involved in Saturday's fracas) but it also has many mature, stable and excellent individuals who are great players and model citizens. That is the point that Commissioner Stern rightly made in the opening portion of his statement.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:56 AM