The NBA has seen its fair share of fights over the years. The most recent one between Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and Detroit Pistons big man Isaiah Stewart could’ve turned for the worst if not for the intervention of others. Of course, many will recall “The Malice at The Palace”—a thrashing between players that spilled into the stands during a game between the Pistons and Indiana Pacers in 2004.
But two years after that fateful night, the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets also 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-NBA commissioner David Stern.
Setting the scene
December 16, 2006. The Nuggets made their way to Madison Square Garden for a matchup against the Knicks, resulting in a blowout loss for the home team.
For whatever reason, Nuggets 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.
The Knicks were frustrated by the tactic.
Karl had his reserves ready to sub in with just over one minute to play, but a turnover delayed them from checking in. Nuggets guard JR Smith raced down the floor on a fast break opportunity, but Knicks forward 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.”
Players from both teams rushed to the action, with Robinson being the first on the 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 live on air. From there, security officials and referees struggled to contain the situation.
Several Nuggets and Knicks news outlets had a field day in the aftermath of the brawl. The NBA came down with an iron fist after the incident, hoping to avoid such conflicts in the future. As a result, there hasn’t been an on-court fight of this magnitude since.
The league fined each team $500,000 for the melee. Smith and Robinson received 10-game suspensions for punching each other, while Collins and fellow Knicks forward Jared Jeffries got six- and four-game suspensions, respectively. Carmelo got suspended for 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 its image in high regard, and it’s hoping to keep ugly fights off the court in the future.