2006-12-22 / Sports

Brawl At Garden Puts “Melo” In Suspended Animation

By John J. Buro

This was intended to be a feel-good story about the NBA’s next great player. Except that Carmelo Anthony, the Denver Nuggets’ 22 year-old star and league’s leading scorer, just couldn’t leave well enough alone.

And, now, there is nothing to feel good about.

Over the first 46 minutes during Saturday’s 123-100 romp against the New York Knicks, at Madison Square Garden, Anthony proved again why he will be a first time All-Star when the NBA visits Las Vegas in mid-February.

After a mild first half, in which the 6’8” forward tallied a mere 11 points, Anthony scored 17 in seven-and-a-half minutes to open the third quarter. He scored from the paint, and from the perimeter. It didn’t matter if there was one defender on him, or two. And, though the Nuggets led, 88-65, when the last of these points was counted, the Knicks reduced the deficit to ten as the fourth quarter began.

Deep into the quarter, Denver had increased the margin into the high-teens. Then, Andre Miller picked up a loose ball with less than two minutes remaining, and the Nuggets’ were again in motion. They didn’t need to score any more points; the game was already in hand. But, there was a flagrant foul called, and some pushing and shoving ensued. Nate Robinson and J.R. Smith, the primary combatants, had already taken their scuffle into the stands.

Anthony began jawing with Mardy Collins, New York’s seldom-used rookie. Then, there was the most insidious move of the evening –a sucker punch to Collins’ face. Consequently, Anthony was chased back to midcourt, where he surrounded himself with friendlier faces.

He did not speak much afterward, other to say that it was important his team –playing the last of five consecutive road games- had won. The following day, he had more to say, in the form of contrition:

“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.

“What makes this all the more painful is that this was one of the most important 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.”

Until this particular contest, which could very well ruin much of what he had achieved, Anthony, the 3rd overall pick of the 2003 Draft –after the Detroit Pistons’ Darco Milicic and before the Toronto Raptors’ Chris Bosh- had joined the game’s elite.

The New York native, who moved to Baltimore in 1992, had risen to national prominence when the Syracuse Orangemen bested the Kansas Jayhawks to capture the 2003 NCAA Tournament. Anthony, a freshman who had averaged 22.2 points [16th best in the nation] and 10.0 rebounds, was voted the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player; then, he was just the third first-year player since 1939 to earn such honors.

“He was, by far, the best player in college basketball,” said Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse coach. “It wasn’t even close.”

Closer, still, was the punch that flattened Collins, and drew a 15-game suspension. [At press time, there wasn’t any indication he would appeal the sentence, which he would be eligible to do because it is greater than 12 games.]

“The altercation escalated further than it should have,” Anthony said in a statement. “I take full responsibility for my actions in the matter. In the heat of the moment, I let my emotions get the best of me. I apologize to the fans, the Denver Nuggets, the N.B.A., my mother and my family for the embarrassment I have caused them.”

Anthony, who signed a five-year, $80 million contract this past July, had already created quite a few embarrassing moments during his brief career. Two drug allegations, one of which occurred on the very day he inked that massive deal. There was a nightclub scuffle. And an underground video, entitled Stop Snitchin’ , which persuaded urban teens to rebuff police investigations.

However, Anthony also understands the concept of giving back. He had allocated $3 million to Syracuse University for the purpose of a new basketball facility, and another $1.5 million for the aforementioned youth center. His benevolence is felt throughout everywhere he has called home.

As he polished his image off the court, he shined even more on it. Before Commissioner David Stern knocked a month off his potential MVP season, Anthony was averaging 31.6 points and 4.1 assists in just 37.5 minutes, while hitting 50.3% of his shots.

He had matured enough to be selected as one of three captains of the USA World Championship Team. And, he had played well enough [19.9 points in 23.9 minutes] to headline the Five-Man All-World Championship Team. Anthony’s average and 179 total points are the second most by a USA player since 1974. But, eight wins in nine games was only good enough for a bronze medal.

Now, he looks to take the Nuggets -last season’s Western Conference Northwest Division champions- back into the playoffs. Anthony has a little more help this time, as Denver acquired Allen Iverson, a perennial All-Star guard, from the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday. Iverson, dubbed ‘The Answer’, is the league’s 2nd leading scorer.

Only twice in league history have teammates finished at the top of the scoring chart, and the Nuggets’ Alex English and Kiki Vandeweghe were the last to do it in 1983.

That is a knockout punch to feel good about.

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