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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Stern Justice: Carmelo Anthony Suspended for 15 Games

The 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



At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 3:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's obvious that you have been involved with the league and its players for some time.
It was a good read with some quality insight.
Alas, I cant help but get the feeling that you trying to get all buddy, buddy with Mr. Stern.
The way he handled this thing outraged me.
Its like he's trying to turn all of these kids from the ghetto into jewish businessmen.
Why is it that when the players in the league get stronger and more physical than ever somehow they have to pretend that they are not in full throttle competion and combat. Im not advocating fighting, but Mr. Stern is doing the exact opposite of what needs to be done....dont make this into a spectacle.
Now everyone treats these players like there some out of control beasts. Uh....hockey?, baseball? football? in these sports you see the expression of overflowing competition in the news and then the next day its gone. Why is it that the NBA is so fragile. My guess is that David Stern has no idea what it feels like to be engaged in physical combat, in fact he's probably never been in a fight in his life.
He shows no understanding (compassion) for his "employees". With each asinine rule he throws out there (dress code, ect.) he loses connection with the players. I think he is a smart man and has developed one of the most advanced business models in proffesional sports, he just should stay out of the morality business.

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 4:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Frankly, I don't see what race or religion has to do with this.

The NBA is a multibillion dollar business. The amount of money that most of the players generate with their salaries and commercial endorsements means that they are literally walking conglomerates. Would Bill Gates and Donald Trump resolve a business dispute by resorting to fisticuffs? I understand that sports are physical and emotions are involved but I think that it is more racist to suggest that young athletes cannot be taught to control their anger than for the commissioner to expect them to do so. Stern is not treating the players like "out of control beasts." He is stating clearly that they are not "beasts" and should conduct themselves accordingly. Also, what kind of example are these players setting for the kids who idolize them? There is a real problem in this country with crime and violence and kids killing each other over petty grievances. NBA players fighting because they feel disrespected hardly sets a good example for youth to follow. Anthony himself acknowledged this in his apology.

The Kermit Washington-Rudy Tomjanovich situation showed that athletes are capable of striking each other with potentially lethal force (Washington was one of the first bulked up players who was really into weighlifting; he is also, by all accounts, a gentle person who was horrified by the results of his punch). The size, speed and strength of today's athletes means that any altercation between them is much more dangerous than it would have been in the past.

The situation already is a spectacle, leading the coverage on ESPN, newspapers, etc. (everywhere but NBA TV...). By stating clearly and firmly that the NBA will not accept this kind of conduct, Stern has gone a long way toward minimizing the likelihood that this will happen again. There are actually few fights in the NBA now and players know not to leave the bench and not to throw a punch because there will be automatic suspensions.

Hockey has always tacitly approved of fighting, as I alluded to in my post. The officials skate around in circles until one player submits, then they send everyone to the penalty box. Of course, sometimes things get out of hand and someone gets a broken neck or some other severe injury, but apparently that has never bothered hockey's leaders too much. Somehow, Olympic hockey has been able to eliminate fighting and still be a quality game but the NHL believes that fans love the fighting. The NHL also has TV ratings slightly above that of a test pattern. Stern is neither interested in having his players get their necks broken nor in having TV ratings like a test pattern.

Baseball fights largely consist of people roaming around the field shouting at each other. They are also separated from the fans. Baseball is also a mismanaged sport that has completely blown it in so many ways, from tolerating steroids (which were and are against federal law without a prescription even though baseball had no rule against them until recently) to having an All-Star Game end in a tie. Again, hardly a model that the NBA wants to follow.

Football fights seem to happen more frequently in college than the NFL; the NFL is a well run league that issues fines and suspensions, which is probably what has kept fighting to a minimum.

I don't think that Stern is against fighting purely for "moral" reasons. He understands that fighting is bad for business. Fighting has the potential to lead to injuries, lawsuits, declining attendance and the attachment of a negative image to the league. When Stern became commissioner, the league was struggling with a drug problem and the Finals were shown on tape delay. He instituted a strong anti-drug policy, aggressively marketed the league and turned it into the great success that it is now (Magic, Bird, MJ, etc. played a large role in this, of course). Without Stern's leadership, the players would not be making the money that they are today, so to complain that he doesn't understand them or is somehow doing wrong by them is quite shortsighted.

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 8:57:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Im tired of talking about this is issue. Its not a race matter.

I do have one question about a game you havent talked about yet....why havent you commented on Bryant's stupid comments about Arenas' 60 points? Bryant said he has no conscious and takes bad shots. Please Bryant check yourself. I know you will find a way to defend his comments, but Bryant is the pot....

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 11:16:00 AM, Blogger Joe said...

"Its like he's trying to turn all of these kids from the ghetto into jewish businessmen."

So we should expect that young black men are always on the brink of violent behavior.

Who's the racist here?

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 11:30:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

I said I wouldnt comment but its a car wreck. Its a joke. Nate Robinson thinks hes Calvin Murphy, who would fight anyone instead of jumping around lookind stupid. I blame JR Smith. You are up 20. Take the foul like a man shoot the two free throws. And take the ball out of bounds. I know you are from Jersey so you are back home so to speak. These guys want false respect. Thats the issue. The league is full of a bunch of kids, not men which the NBA used to be, and want respect.

For the last 30-40 the NBA has been a majority black league. And white people loved the league. The youth dont perform and have no respect. Thats not race. It has always been about performance. Thats why football is so popular. Its performance driven. Look at the Bengals. No one cares about all the arrests.

Hey the Knicks and the Nuggets won last night. Maybe they always need to fight.

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 12:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, as Ive said before, its not about racism its about understanding. What youve just eluded to is the fact that its really all about money.
If youve grwon up in poverty or in a rough environment you should know that these guys dont play this game for money. Why is it that whenever anyone does something wrong in the NBA there is always saying "if I made that kind of money I would/wouldnt.......".
David Stern changed the business of the NBA so that EVERYONE involved make a TON more money. Is this why these players are in the NBA? Becuase it made the most financial sense? or becuase they would play this game for free because this is the true love of thier life? Im sure the answer for every player is different and somewhere in between. but realize here that none of the actual players in the NBA asked him to pile these heaps of pressure and scrutiny. It just made business sense and he was doing what he knew how to do. becuase he certatinly doesnt play basketball.
my quote "he's trying to turn all of these kids from the ghetto into jewish businessmen."
was really more about the dress code. The fact that the players have to wear dress coats even when walking from the bus to the arena. Are you kidding me? Maybe its becuase Im from the west coast but, even businessmen dont wear suit and ties here if they dont want to. How can you try to force the players to dress in your image. Now if he would have said "I strongly suggest that the players of the NBA dress in business attire, so to command the respect of our peers." then he asserts his personal opinion and the players get to be human beings with human expression. How much do you want to bet that Stern went o a high school where he had to wear a uniform. Well, I didnt. I went to a school where no one said a thing about your personal expression (choices) and it was one of the most creative atmospheres a young person can imagine.
David, if money equaled happiness then Id think you have a point, but it doesnt.
This is not about money to the players, but it is to David Stern.

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 2:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My next post will be about Arenas' 60 point performance, which has basically been ignored in the wake of the fight at MSG.

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 2:54:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

jans you said...If youve grwon up in poverty or in a rough environment you should know that these guys dont play this game for money. Thats crazy. Thats all they play for. Only a few of these players REALLY want a ring. Now I didnt interview players but you can tell who really cares. Just watch.

If its not about money for the players, then why did Gus Williams sit out the 80-81 season because of money? Which was his prime. Or why did Dr. J ask for 10,000 to be in a dunk contest at Rucker park in the 70s? Its always about money.

At Tuesday, December 19, 2006 3:21:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I didn't say that if I--or someone else--made that much money that I would do something differently. Anyone can lose his temper at any time, of course. What I said is that the NBA as an organization and its players as mini-conglomerates have to be aware that their actions can have enormous financial implications.

To say that the players are not playing for the money or that they would play for free combines a cliche with naivete. If the players are not playing for the money why do they have a Players Association that constantly negotiates for larger contracts? Why are the NBA and its players unwilling to contribute the necessary funds to help the pre-65ers, retired players who are not part of the pension plan and really need the money? Just a few million dollars from the NBA and its players could solve the problem but neither the NBA nor its players have been willing to do this. If the players are not actively pursuing every last dollar why do they do so many endorsement deals? Some of the players play for the love of the game but to suggest that they would play for free or that money is not a big factor flies in the face of the facts.

I'm not a big proponent of dress codes but I certainly understand what David Stern is doing. I understand that things are a little bit more informal in California but most businesses have some kind of dress code or standard. NBA players are walking conglomerates and it is not unreasonable to expect them to dress accordingly.

You keep referring to Stern's background but I don't think you really know anything about where he came from or what kind of school he attended. In any case, none of that is relevant. Regardless of where he came from or where the players came from, they are all now participants in a multi-billion dollar business and must act accordingly. If players love the game so much that they will play for free and don't want to be
"encumbered" by the NBA's rules then there are certainly many opportunities to play overseas, in the minor leagues or at the parks. Other than possibly Latrell Sprewell--who wanted more money than $7 million per year, not less--I haven't seen too many healthy NBA players walking away from the money.

At Saturday, December 15, 2007 1:14:00 PM, Blogger The Quest for the Ring said...

Stern's decision to go off the deep end failed because it did not end fighting in the NBA. It didn't even end players leaving the bench during altercations.

The Phoenix Suns were knocked out of their West Conference playoff series against the Spurs when some of their key players left the bench during an "altercation" that was instigated by a Spurs player. As a result, Phoenix lost what will probably be the best chance it will have in our lifetimes to win a Championship. Phil Jackson has eluded to this.

Once the Spurs, helped immensely by the Phoenix players not being allowed to play after they left the bench, defeated the Suns, many of the true fans of the League knew that the Spurs could not possibly lose the Championship, so they tuned out.

So to those who think Stern's decision was correct:

(1) Why have altercations not been eliminated as Stern said they would be?

(2) Why didn't the Suns behave as Stern predicted they would after the huge suspensions for the MSG incident? In other words, why were the 2007 playoffs spoiled?

At Sunday, December 16, 2007 6:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nuggets 1:

Melo was suspended for throwing a punch, not for leaving the bench.

Fighting has declined dramatically in the NBA since Stern put in these rules and showed that he would consistently enforce them.

Why do you think that the Horry-Nash situation did not become a full blown brawl? It is precisely because of the rules that are now in place.

Fighting will never be completely eliminated but these rules have greatly cut down on the number and severity of fights. Should we get rid of laws against theft because some people still steal?

Furthermore, Horry did not instigate an altercation. He committed a hard foul. Nash exaggerated the contact (watch the video again) and he and his teammates decided how to react. There have been plenty of flagrant fouls in playoff games and other players did not leave the bench like Amare and Diaw did.

The Suns have yet to show that they have the composure and mental toughness to beat the Spurs in the playoffs and that is why they lost.


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