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The NBA’s last great brawl: looking back at the Knicks-Nuggets fight in 2006

The NBA has seen its fair share of fights over the years. Most fans will recall “The Malace at The Palace” — a thrashing between players that spilled into the stands during a Pistons-Pacers game in 2004. Two years after that fateful night, members of the Knicks and Nuggets went toe-to-toe in an on-court scuffle that featured a young Carmelo Anthony, leading to hefty fines and sweeping rule changes from then-commissioner David Stern.

Setting the scene:

December 16, 2006. The Nuggets had made their way to Madison Square Garden for a matchup against the Knicks, resulting in a blowout loss for the home team.

The situation:

For whatever reason, Nuggets head coach George Karl decided to leave his starters on the floor in the closing minutes of the game, despite the fact that his team was leading by a wide margin. This sort of strategy goes against an unwritten rule of conduct in the NBA (and other sports).

The Knicks were frustrated by this tactic.

Karl had his reserves ready to sub in for Denver with just over one minute to play, but a turnover delayed them from checking in. Nuggets guard J.R. Smith raced down the floor on a fast break opportunity, but Mardy Collins fouled him hard, sending him to the floor.

“For what they did as in keeping guys in, I knew a foul was going to come,” Knicks point guard Nate Robinson was quoted as saying after the game, via SB Nation. “A hard one because we’re not going to let guys keep dunking when they’re up 20 and they have their starters in.”

The climax:

Players from both teams rushed to the action, with Nate Robinson being the first on-scene. With tempers reaching their boiling points, Robinson actually threw a punch at Smith, who responded with some blows of his own.

The tension seemed to be dying down a bit until Carmelo snuck in what appeared to be a slap to Collins’ face. It was a direct hit that was loud enough to be heard on live air. From there, security officials and referees struggled to contain the situation:

Suspensions:

The NBA came down with an iron fist after this incident, hoping to avoid such conflicts in the future. As a result, there hasn’t been an on-court fight of this magnitude since.

Right up front, the league fined each team $500,000 for their involvement. Smith and Robinson received 10-game suspensions for punching each other, while Collins and New York’s Jared Jeffries got six and four-game suspensions, respectively. Anthony, however, got 15 games for his sneaky slap.

“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,” Stern said after handing out the fines, via SB Nation.

Whether or not we’ll see another brawl like this remains to be seen. The NBA holds image in high regard, and it’s hoping to keep these fights off the court in the future.