The Nuggets' Fight of Fancy

At the opening tip-off of tonight’s basketball game at Madison Square Garden, don’t be surprised if you hear the ding of a bell instead of the blow of a whistle. The Denver Thuggetz vs. the New York Knickerboxers. This time it’s personal.

In case you were vacationing in Antarctica last December, these two teams have a bit of history ( With the Nuggets up by 19 points and just over a minute to go, J.R. Smith was pulled to the floor on a breakaway by Knicks guard Mardy Collins, inciting a fight that lead to the suspension of 7 players for a total of 47 games, including 15 by Carmelo Anthony, who was, at the time, the NBA’s leading scorer.

As with all sports brawls, the media response was swift and damning. Disgusting. Disgraceful. A black-eye for the league (pun, presumably, intended). And to hammer home the point of how “you never want to see things like that happen in a game,” ESPN ran clips of the fight on a near constant loop over the next week, as commentators raced for superlatives to prove who was the most outraged.

The fight was stupid and costly (although, in a more literal sense, not nearly as costly as the $11 million verdict rendered against Isiah Thomas in a sexual harassment case he and MSG lost earlier this summer, a charge against which Thomas claims he’s “very innocent”). But sports pride themselves for their unscripted drama, and it doesn’t get much more unscripted or dramatic as two 6 foot-plus men tumbling into floor seats mostly likely owned and occupied by members of the corporate elite.

So instead of pretending like we’re a society that shies away from violent spectacle, let’s just call it what it was: an utterly compelling piece of sports footage. Outside of Ron Artest Hulking Out against the crowd in Detroit, our Nuggets delivered one of the more memorable basketball highlights of the past several years.

There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the increasing physicality of the NBA is a large part of its appeal. We watch football, at least in part, because of the brutality of the game. Fights are officially sanctioned in hockey. And Pedro vs. The Zim is probably the funniest video involving an old person since “I’ve Fallen and Can’t Get Up.”

The point is, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we get a rush out of seeing multi-millionaire athletes take a swing at each other. And if the media – including CNN and other news outlets who are just as guilty as ESPN at over exposing these fights – are sincere in their moralizing that “things like that have no place in the game,” they should give them the streaker treatment and pretend it never happened.

By feigning disgust while re-airing these fights more times than the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, the media’s hypocrisy is as flagrant as Collins’ foul. -- Mark Schiff

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Sean Cronin