Melo apologizes; Isiah reportedly under investigation

Updated: December 20, 2006, 10:36 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- In Carmelo Anthony, Denver has the NBA's leading scorer. Sometime Monday, the Nuggets should learn how long they have to make do without him.

And the New York Knicks were expected to be told of their penalties as well from Saturday's brawl -- including if the league thinks coach Isiah Thomas had any role in triggering it.

The NBA's policy is to announce suspensions before a team plays its next game, and both Denver and New York are in action Monday night. The Nuggets host Washington, and the Knicks are back at Madison Square Garden to face Utah.

And with the league still working to repair its image after the brawl between Pacers players and Pistons fans two years ago, it could come down hard on many of the 10 players who were ejected after the melee at the Garden.

"I'm saddened to see it happen, but it will be dealt with and there will be some severe penalties," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "It's unfortunate when things like that happen." It could be especially tough for the Nuggets, who could be facing at least five games without Anthony and his 31.6-point scoring average. He and J.R. Smith, who combine for 48.3 per game, joined New York's Nate Robinson in taking part in the most disturbing images of the brawl.

Anthony, who dropped Mardy Collins with a punch, said Sunday he was sorry his emotions got the best of him.

"Last night's altercation with the Knicks escalated further than it should have. I take full responsibility for my actions in the matter," Anthony said in a statement. "In the heat of the moment I let my emotions get the best of me. I apologize to the fans, the Denver Nuggets, the NBA, my mother, and my family for the embarrassment I have caused them. I ask you all for your forgiveness.

"I also want to make a personal apology to Mardy Collins and his family. My actions were inexcusable, and I am sorry for making this an even more embarrassing situation.

"What makes this all the more painful is that this was one of the biggest weeks of my life. I just realized one of my biggest dreams when we opened the Youth Center in Baltimore that bares my name. To see the community excited and hundreds of kids smiling was an incredible feeling. Now the thought of thousands of kids seeing this incident on TV pains me. This is not the example I want to set.

"It's my hope that we work to move forward from this event, and never let something like this happen again."

Thomas said he told Anthony that he and Marcus Camby shouldn't have been in the game after it was decided. A source in the league, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation into the brawl, said that Thomas also advised Anthony not to go near the basket shortly before the hard foul occurred.

The NBA is now investigating Thomas for his role in the fight, The New York Times reported on its Web site. There is no known precedent for the league punishing a coach for instigating a brawl, the newspaper said.

Threat Or Just A Lecture?
Brawl warning: Did Knicks coach Isiah Thomas play a role in instigating the Knicks-Nuggets melee at the Garden? Read his lips, then be the judge. Watch ESPN Video

Though Thomas acknowledged telling Anthony not to go into the paint, he said Monday he meant it not as a threat but as a lecture on sportsmanship.

"It wasn't necessarily not go to the basket, but basically don't rub it in," Thomas said after New York's shootaround. "It wouldn't be a good idea for you to rub it in and go to the basket and dunk it on our guys. We're down 18, we're down 19, you don't need to act like that. Basically, show some class."

If the league believes that, it sets up another embarrassment for the Knicks, who already came off looking childish by blaming the Nuggets for still having their starters in with a 19-point lead and only 1:15 to play.

What caused the meltdown? It seems to come down to this: The Knicks felt dissed.

"The score, period, and the guys that they had in," Robinson said after the game.

The Knicks (9-17) didn't practice Sunday and weren't commenting further. MSG chairman James Dolan will not be commenting on the matter at any point, a company spokesman told The Times.

Another starter, Andre Miller, was also on the floor when Collins prevented Smith from an easy basket by grabbing him by the neck and taking him to the floor.

Smith rose and immediately started jawing with Collins, and Robinson jumped in to pull Smith away. Anthony shoved Robinson away, and Robinson and Smith then tumbled into the front row while fighting.

Just as things appeared to be calming down, Anthony threw a hard punch that floored Collins, and New York's Jared Jeffries sprinted from the baseline toward halfcourt in an effort to get at Anthony, but was tackled by a Denver player.

By the time security had finally contained Smith, they were nearly at the opposite end of the court from where the altercation started, making it the NBA's scariest scene since the brawl at Auburn Hills, Mich.

"Without being there, I can tell you the power of emotions can be an underrated thing in our game," Carlisle said.

Nuggets coach George Karl had just dispatched three players to the scorer's table to check in while the Knicks brought the ball up the floor. But before play stopped so they could check in, New York turned it over, starting Smith's fast break.

Three minutes earlier, Smith had thrown down a reverse dunk on the break, as both he and Anthony seemed to be trying to impress their group of fans. Smith is from New Jersey, and Anthony, who scored 23 points in the second half, is a New York native.

The Knicks weren't enjoying the show. Robinson said the Knicks were "just trying to fight, come back from the deficit and they got their star players still in. It's a slap in the face to us as a franchise."

In a revealing story Monday on the New York Daily News' Web site, Robinson said he did not regret his actions and that Collins' foul was premeditated.

"For what they did as in keeping guys in, I knew a foul was going to come," Robinson was quoted as saying after the game. "A hard one because we're not going to let guys keep dunking when they're up 20 and they have their starters in. It was a good clean hard foul. After that, it went downhill from there."

It's been a miserable season for the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, where they have been routinely booed while compiling a 4-10 record. And they were in the midst of their second straight beating -- Collins, in fact, committed a flagrant foul at the tail end of a 112-96 loss at Indiana on Friday night. The final score on Saturday was 123-100, Nuggets.

Thomas, even, has shown signs of coming unglued, lashing out at opponents and Knicks fans. On Nov. 4, he criticized the Pacers for celebrating too much in the final minutes of Indiana's win in New York.

The following week, Thomas accused the Spurs' Bruce Bowen of dangerous defensive tactics that led to the Knicks' Steve Francis suffering a sprained ankle. When the teams met for a second time that week, and Bowen used the same tactic, the Daily News reported Thomas had to be restrained from going after Bowen and was heard shouting to his players to "break his feet," referring to Bowen.

But while there is no excuse for the Knicks' and the Nuggets' actions Saturday, nor is there any reason why Anthony should have had such a prominent role. Before the game, Karl was talking about his maturation as a player and a person, and Anthony was one of the captains of the U.S. team in the world championships.

The NBA has taken numerous steps to clean up its image after the fiasco in Detroit, implementing a dress code and its community relations initiative NBA Cares last season, and trying to eliminate excessive complaints to officials this season.

With Anthony appearing in marketing campaigns to promote the NBA, the league can't have him participating in an incident that's sure to trigger more discussions about all that is still wrong with its players.

"I'm sure there's going to be some pretty stiff suspensions," said Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal, suspended for his role in the Detroit brawl.

"That's the negative, too, because they're going to start comparing it ... to our fight, so you'll hear about our brawl a little bit more. But it's bad. I hope they suspend all the guys."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.