The Knicks–Nuggets brawl was an on-court altercation at a National Basketball Association (NBA) game between the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets at Madison Square Garden in New York City on December 16, 2006. This altercation was the most penalized on-court fight in the NBA since the Pacers–Pistons brawl two years before.
The fight began with a flagrant foul by Knicks guard Mardy Collins on Nuggets guard J. R. Smith in the closing seconds of the game. Several players joined in the confrontation, and began to make physical contact. The fight briefly spilled into the stands, and also stretched to the other end of the court. All ten players on the floor at the time were ejected after the altercation was finished. When suspensions were announced, seven players were suspended without pay for a combined total of 47 games.
Although they were not penalized, Nuggets coach George Karl and Knicks coach Isiah Thomas were both scrutinized for their part in the brawl. Carmelo Anthony was also criticized for harming his image as a star, and several writers said the league had penalized the players excessively because it wanted to keep its image free from violence.
Entering the game, the New York Knicks had a record of 9–17 while the Denver Nuggets sported a 13–9 record. Despite trailing the entire game, the Knicks came as close as 2 points in the first half but the Nuggets regrouped and closed the half with a 13-point advantage and continued to lead in the second half by as much as 26 points in the third quarter. The Knicks briefly came within 10 points with ten minutes left in the game, but the Nuggets went on a 12–2 run and were never threatened again. Carmelo Anthony scored 24 points to lead the Nuggets, and Marcus Camby added 24 points and 9 rebounds; Stephon Marbury scored a season-high 31 points for the Knicks.
The incident occurred with 1:15 remaining in the Knicks' home game at Madison Square Garden, where the Nuggets were leading 119–100. The Knicks' Mardy Collins fouled the Nuggets' J. R. Smith on a fast break by slapping his arms around Smith's neck, knocking him to the ground. As Smith stood up to confront Collins, Nate Robinson pulled Smith away, and then began pushing and shouting at him. David Lee tried to hold Smith back, but Smith broke free and charged into Robinson, causing both players to fall into the photographers and front row courtside seats, before they were quickly separated by teammates.
As the fighting was seemingly coming to an end, Carmelo Anthony confronted Collins and punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. Jared Jeffries immediately tried to attack Anthony but tripped over Marcus Camby, before being restrained by coaches and teammates, while Anthony backed up towards the Nuggets' bench. Collins also ran down the court to get at Anthony but was blocked by Nenê and Smith. All ten players on the court at the time of the incident were ejected by the officiating crew that consisted of Dick Bavetta, Violet Palmer, and Robbie Robinson.
NBA commissioner David Stern reacted with strict penalties for the players involved, stating, "It is our obligation to take the strongest possible steps to avoid such failures in the future." Seven players were suspended for a total of 47 games, and the players lost in excess of $1.2 million in salary. Each team was also fined $500,000.
Because Anthony's suspension was longer than 12 games, he was eligible to appeal to an arbitrator; however, Anthony eventually announced he would not attempt one, saying he did not "want to be a further distraction".
Several sportswriters said the brawl was not as violent as the Pacers–Pistons brawl two years before, and 81% of respondents in a SportsNation poll said the biggest difference between the two brawls was that it "didn't involve players going into the stands and fighting fans". However, Michael Ventre said that the Knicks and Nuggets brawl was worse because "it was touched off by the actions of players, and it escalated because of them." Several writers said that the penalties were more severe because of the Pacers–Pistons brawl, because the league was on a "very serious image-cleanup campaign."
Steve Francis claimed that the media reaction to the fight and the suspensions itself were "racially motivated." He argued that Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League had "incidents that are way worse than basketball," but did not face the scrutiny that the NBA received "because there are more black players in the NBA." This was echoed by several writers, and sportswriter-television personality Michael Wilbon said that "NBA players have endured more scrutiny, pertaining to image, than any other professional athletes in America." Martin Luther King III called for a meeting to end the violence in the NBA, stating, "Individuals who play a game should be able to conduct themselves appropriately." However, the NBA said through a spokesman that they "don't think that meeting is necessary."
Minutes before the brawl started, Knicks coach Isiah Thomas asked Carmelo Anthony not to go into the painted area around the basket, despite the fact that they were not members of the same team. Thomas later said that because Denver head coach George Karl kept his team's starting players on the court for the closing minutes of the game, which Thomas thought showed a lack of sportsmanship, his orders to Anthony were to "show some class." However, Karl responded by saying the brawl "was directed by Isiah".
Thomas was not penalized after the brawl, as an NBA investigation ruled that they did not have "adequate evidence upon which to make a determination," but several writers criticized the NBA for not including Thomas in the suspensions. ESPN analyst Marc Stein called Thomas' explanations of his comments "laughable," and commentator Greg Anthony, a former Knicks player, said he "never had a coach say that to an opponent." It was also suggested that Thomas was attempting to resurrect the physical tactics of his former team, the "Bad Boy" Pistons.
In response to Thomas saying that keeping the Nuggets starters on the floor in the final minutes of the game was unsportsmanlike, Karl said that he "never thought about running up the score," and only wanted to "get a big win on the road." However, several sportswriters criticized his decision, and some said that he should also have been penalized. It was also suggested that Karl was trying to humiliate Thomas due to the perception that Thomas had mistreated Larry Brown, a friend of Karl's. Karl was also blamed for putting his players in a position to start a fight.
The day following the brawl, Anthony issued a statement and apology to his family, the league, and fans. He also specifically apologized to Mardy Collins, whom he directly struck during the incident. At the time of the brawl, Anthony was the league's leading scorer; his suspension was also the longest of the players suspended, and the sixth-longest in NBA history. According to former NBA player Steve Kerr, Anthony had "tarnished" his image, and Ric Bucher said that Anthony had "torched his own career". Sports Illustrated writer Marty Burns said that Anthony faced becoming known by sports fans across America as the player who punched Collins in the face and then ran away. An example of the backlash was Northwest Airlines pulling Anthony from its in-flight magazine cover, as it said it did not want "to condone the behavior of Anthony".
A day after Anthony was suspended, Denver acquired Allen Iverson, who was then second in the league in scoring behind Anthony. After Anthony and Smith returned from their suspensions, the trio led the Nuggets to 45 wins and the sixth seed in the Western Conference for the playoffs. However, they were eliminated in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs. The Knicks finished 33–49, 12th in the Eastern Conference, and did not make the playoffs.
The two teams faced each other for the first time since the altercation on November 17, 2007, which the Nuggets won 115–83. Opposing players Renaldo Balkman and Linas Kleiza began arguing with each other after Balkman was called for a hard foul on Kleiza, but the incident was defused after Balkman was given a technical foul. Iverson, Anthony, and Marcus Camby were all removed early in the fourth quarter. Balkman and Kleiza later became teammates after Balkman was traded to the Nuggets in the 2008 off-season.
As of the 2010–11 season, of the seven suspended players, three were still with their respective teams. Mardy Collins was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2008. Jerome James was traded to the Chicago Bulls a year later, but never played for the Bulls as he suffered a torn Achilles tendon. Jeffries and Robinson were traded at the 2010 trade deadline to the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics, respectively. Robinson then signed a multi-year deal with the Denver Nuggets on July 26, 2013. Carmelo Anthony was traded to the Knicks before the 2011 trade deadline. Meanwhile, Jeffries' contract was bought out by the Rockets and he rejoined the Knicks. In addition, J.R. Smith was signed by the Knicks in February of the 2012 season, which will make him the second former Nugget involved in the brawl to join the Knicks. Though not directly involved in the brawl, 2006 Nuggets C/PF Marcus Camby also joined the Knicks during the 2012 off-season, making him the third 2006 Nugget to join the Knicks for the 2012-2013 season. Also not directly involved in the brawl, PF Kenyon Martin joined the Knicks on February 21, 2013 (initially on a 10-day contract), making him the 4th member of the 2012-2013 Knicks to have been on the '06 Nuggets team.