NBA players want to know: Why us?
Jermaine O'Neal once was suspended for throwing a punch at a fan. Marcus Camby bloodied his own coach while trying to deck an opposing player nearly six years ago.
Still, they are among the players who wonder about the perception the NBA is more violent than other leagues.
The league was back under fire in the wake of the fight between the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, two years after the brawl in Detroit in 2004. And though there have been few negative incidents since the 2004 brawl, it didn't take long for the criticism to return.
"Listen, the NHL lets them fight. Fights happen in baseball. Fights happen in football. Why are we under scrutiny about our game?" asked O'Neal. "Do you guys look at the NHL? Every day they're boxing. They throw the gloves off and just wear each other out. It would be interesting if you take that same question to the NHL and ask them why they're not under scrutiny about fighting."
O'Neal had a role in the biggest reason for that scrutiny. He was one of the Pacers involved in the melee with Pistons fans, getting suspended 25 games - reduced to 15 by an arbitrator - for throwing a punch at a fan who had come on the court.
Camby was one of the 10 players ejected Saturday, but wasn't suspended when commissioner David Stern handed out his penalties. He had been suspended five games in January 2001 while playing for the Knicks after throwing a punch at the Spurs' Danny Ferry - coach Jeff Van Gundy needed more than a dozen stitches after his head collided with Camby's while trying to step between the players.
Saturday's brawl started after the Knicks were upset that the Nuggets still had four starters on the floor with a big lead in the closing minutes. Guard Mardy Collins, the last player off the New York bench, flagrantly fouled Denver's J.R. Smith to trigger the fighting.
Teams who are getting routed send a goon out to start fights in NHL games all the time, so players want to know why there's a different standard when it happens in the NBA.
"It's a good question," Camby said. "The NBA always said when guys fight they take a major hit image-wise. It happens every night in hockey and the fans still come out."
The Pacers took another public relations hit before the season when Stephen Jackson, also suspended after the brawl at Auburn Hills, was arrested and charged with firing a gun outside a strip club.
But O'Neal wondered why there is rarely talk about similar problems in the NFL - eight Cincinnati Bengals have been arrested this season alone.
Stern understands that his league just has to deal with the criticism until there is no more fighting.
"Obviously, there are other sports that have fighting baked into them and others that are considerably more violent, but we have set up the goal of eliminating fighting from our game," Stern said.
"We have eliminated it to an extraordinary degree based upon any historical basis, but we haven't eliminated it completely, so we're subjected to features and questions that seem particularly reserved to the NBA. But we accept that."
KG'S LOST CHRISTMAS: Kevin Garnett did not hide his disappointment when the Minnesota Timberwolves lost out to Denver in the bidding for Allen Iverson.
Garnett lobbied hard for the Wolves to acquire Iverson, one of his favorite players. But in the end, they didn't have enough to offer Philadelphia, which sent the Answer to the Nuggets for Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two first-round picks.
Getting Iverson would have made been a "very, very nice Christmas present," Garnett said.
Now he's anxious to see how AI, the league's second-leading scorer, blends with Carmelo Anthony, who leads the league, in Denver.
"It's just going to be real interesting to see the two top scorers on one team with one ball," Garnett said. "I'm looking forward to watching them play. Denver has a fun style to play against.
"I know Andre Miller made a lot of things easier for those guys," he said. "I know (Iverson's) going to make it a lot easier on Melo knowing that you have to tend to another scorer on the floor. So things should open up, and as a fan I'm looking forward to watching them play. As a competitor, I'm looking forward to playing against them."
EVERBODY WINS: The Denver Nuggets got a superstar, the Philadelphia 76ers got a couple of first-round picks and a lower payroll.
The Allen Iverson trade generated interest in many other ways.
Just in time for the last rush of the holiday shopping season, the NBA Store in New York started selling Iverson's "No. 3" Denver jersey on Thursday - even before Iverson had worn it in a game.
At $170 apiece, the jerseys figured to make plenty of money for the store. Last season, Iverson had the NBA's fourth highest-selling jersey, behind Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
The store also began selling leftover Iverson merchandise at a discounted price on Friday.
Even if the Nuggets end up losers on the court, the Iverson trade made them winners at the ticket office.
Denver sold 600 season tickets within 24 hours of announcing the deal with the 76ers.
But plenty of people will be expecting Denver to improve. Following the trade, the online betting site pinnaclesports.com lowered the odds of the Nuggets winning the NBA title from 50 to 1 down to 18 to 1.
'TIL THEY WIN AGAIN: It wasn't always like this for many players on the Charlotte Bobcats.
The roster is loaded with players who come from winning backgrounds. Emeka Okafor and Jake Voskuhl won titles at Connecticut, and Sean May and Raymond Felton were on North Carolina's national championship team in 2005.
They aren't winning very much these days, but head coach Bernie Bickerstaff says that is to be expected.
"Most of our guys know how to win, because they've won," Bickerstaff said. "They're figuring out how to win on this level. When you step up to this level, it's different."
While building the Bobcats, Bickerstaff has tried to surround himself with players who are used to being successful.
Charlotte was thrilled when it was able to get Adam Morrison, a national player of the year winner at Gonzaga, with the No. 3 pick in the draft.
But as the Bobcats continue to lose close games, Bickerstaff is reminded that "learning to win" is sometimes more than a cliche.
"The guys are getting meaningful minutes," he said. "We're in our games but we just can't find a way to get over the hump."
That was the case again Wed-nesday night in New York, where the Bobcats lost in double overtime on David Lee's tip-in at the buzzer.
The Knicks only had the ball because Charlotte botched its final possession, turning it over with under a second to play.
But someday, the Bobcats will remember what it's like to come through in clutch situations - just as so many of them used to.
"We already know what it is we need to do," Felton said. "We've just got to go out there and do it."
COACHSPEAK: "Well, he just hasn't scored enough." - Bernie Bickerstaff, on Michael Jordan's contribution since becoming a part owner of the Charlotte Bobcats.
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