Frustrated NBA Commissioner David Stern took quick action in response to the weekend brawl between the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks, suspending seven players and issuing team fines he hoped would send a message.
In a Monday teleconference, Stern announced that Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony, the league's top scorer, had received a 15-game suspension, the sixth-longest in NBA history.
"Clearly we're not getting through or players in certain circumstances don't want to be restrained," he said.
"I would suggest that those players will not have long careers in the NBA."
In addition to the suspensions, the league fined the Nuggets and Knicks $500,000 each, which Stern characterized as a warning to front-office executives that they will be held accountable for the actions of their players.
If fighting does not stop, he said, "there will be more fines for general managers and for coaches."
In this instance, however, Stern said he did not find sufficient evidence to take action against the much-discussed behavior of Knicks Coach Isiah Thomas.
Saturday night's brawl at Madison Square Garden started with 1:15 remaining in the game and the Nuggets playing with four starters on the floor despite holding a big lead.
Thomas acknowledged telling Anthony: "You're up 19 with a minute and a half to go, you and [Marcus] Camby really shouldn't be in the game right now."
But the coach denied ordering rookie Mardy Collins or any other Knicks player to put a hard foul on the Nuggets.
Collins pulled a driving Smith down by the neck, which ignited a benches-clearing fight.
Hard fouls are a reality of the game, Stern said, and differ significantly from a coach directing his players to instigate a fight.
"If I thought somebody had given a specific order to injure somebody, I would react very differently, but I don't think that happened," Stern said.
Nuggets Coach George Karl was not satisfied.
"It was directed by Isiah," he told reporters at a team shoot-around on Monday.
Karl was especially angered by Thomas' comments after the game, which placed blame on Denver for keeping its starters on the court.
"I think his actions after the game were despicable," Karl said of Thomas. "He made a bad situation worse."
Karl called Thomas a "jerk," among other names.
"I'll be dealing with the Nuggets organization on that," Stern said.
Both teams played in separate games Monday, and the suspensions began immediately.
Previously, the league had suspended Ron Artest 72 games for his role in the 2004 Pacers-Pistons brawl.
Latrell Sprewell was suspended 68 games (reduced by an arbitrator from one full year) for "physically assaulting" coach P.J. Carlesimo in 1997.
In this case, Anthony received the harshest penalty because he threw a punch at Collins just as the situation seemed to be calming down. The missed games will cost Anthony an estimated $859,000.
Smith and Robinson received 10-game suspensions because their fight endangered spectators. Their lost salaries were estimated at about $154,000 and $131,000, respectively.
"My concern is actually for the safety of the players and the fans, and when things get out of hand you cannot predict or project where they're going to go," Stern said.
Among other Knicks players, Collins was suspended for six games, Jared Jeffries for four and Jerome James for one.
Nene, of the Nuggets, also received a one-game suspension.
The length of Anthony's suspension -- he is not eligible to return until Jan. 20 -- allows him to seek a reduction through arbitration.
After the Pacers-Pistons fight, for example, an arbitrator decreased Jermaine O'Neal's suspension from 25 to 15 games.
Stern expressed confidence that Anthony's punishment would be upheld.
"We judged him on his actions on the court, period," the commissioner said. "And they deserved a harsh penalty."
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Suspensions and fines handed out by NBA Commissioner David Stern for the fight between the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks on Saturday:
*--* NEW YORK
Nate Robinson...10 games
Mardy Collins...6 games
Jared Jeffries...4 games
Jerome James...1 game
Carmelo Anthony...15 games
J.R. Smith...10 games
Longest suspensions in NBA history for on-court incidents (x-Does not include immediate one-game suspension handed down on Nov. 20):
* 72 games-x (remainder of the season), Ron Artest, Indiana: For fighting with fans in the final minute of a game at Detroit on Nov. 19, 2004 (suspension issued Nov. 21, 2004).
* 68 games, Latrell Sprewell, Golden State: After "physically assaulting" coach P.J. Carlesimo during a practice (Dec. 4, 1997). Arbitrator John Feerick overturned the Warriors' termination of Sprewell's contract and reduced his one-year suspension by five months, ending July 1, 1998.
* 30 games-x, Stephen Jackson, Indiana: For fighting with fans in the final minute of a game at Detroit on Nov. 19, 2004 (Nov. 21, 2004).
* 26 games (60 days), Kermit Washington, LAKERS: For punching Houston's Rudy Tomjanovich (1977).
* 25 games-x, Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana: For fighting with fans in the final minute of a game at Detroit on Nov. 19, 2004 (Nov. 21, 2004). Was reduced by an arbitrator to 15 games.
* 15 games, Carmelo Anthony, Denver: For punching New York's Mardy Collins in a game on Dec. 16 (Dec. 18, 2006).
* 11 games, Dennis Rodman, Chicago: For kicking a courtside television photographer (Jan. 17, 1997).
* 10 games, Nate Robinson, New York: For fighting in a game against Denver on Dec. 16 (Dec. 18, 2006).
* 10 games, J.R. Smith, Denver: For fighting in a game at New York on Dec. 16 (Dec. 18, 2006).
* 10 games, Vernon Maxwell, Houston Rockets: For going into the stands and hitting a fan (Feb. 6, 1995).