Sorry, Carmelo, old baggage can weigh down new penalties

He should have known better.

Of all the players in the NBA - the most disproportionately maligned league in the land, and at the same time a league that keeps on asking for it - Carmelo Anthony should have known better.


After all, he keeps asking for it, too.

So, no, all things considered, 15 games for his role in the melee at New York's Madison Square Garden on Saturday is not too much.


Now the NBA and Anthony can keep living their twin existences, both to be judged more harshly for every bad act forever more because of something that tainted their reputations years earlier - yet continuing to bring that judgment on themselves when you'd least expect.

Auburn Hills, meet Stop Snitching. Now, go attach yourselves to those characters, and keep reminding them who you are in case they forget again.

The mess at the Garden was not pretty, but even remotely likening it to the Pistons-Pacers riot in the stands two years ago is stretching things way too far. Plus, it's not even the most foul thing to happen in pro sports that night, not with Terrell "T-Hock" Owens lobbing one into an opponent's face mid-game.

Yet there's simply nothing the NBA can do about it, except try again to make sure nothing happens to remind a cynical public about it.

The Knicks and Nuggets failed - David Stern himself used the word "failure" yesterday in his statements explaining the post-fight punishments. So the commissioner brought the hammer down hard.

And the hammer landed on Anthony harder than the rest.

Say if you want that he wasn't the instigator (that was Mardy Collins), that he wasn't the worst offender (Nate Robinson was), that he looked more dainty than dangerous by swinging at Collins, then backpedaling halfway up the Garden concourse. Say he deserves credit for being the one and only person involved to show any remorse so far, with his lengthy, detailed apology a day later.

Definitely say that if Knicks coach Isiah Thomas - who pretty much issued Anthony a threat before the fight broke out - wasn't punished, then there was no real justice meted out. And point out that this was a post-game prayer circle compared with the routine mayhem involving the Knicks throughout the 1990s.


You'd be justified in all of it. And if it were anyone but a handful of other players whose personas are counted on to fuel the NBA's image comeback, you'd be right to say Anthony didn't even deserve the longest suspension, much less the 15 games.

But it is Anthony. He is the "name." And he's got the baggage, just like the NBA's baggage in this - and that combined baggage takes away any benefit of the doubt he'd otherwise deserve.

In a league that can't afford to look bad, Anthony can afford it the least. If he didn't quite grasp that before, he has no choice but to grasp it now, and hard as it will be, to grasp it until the day he walks away from the game.

Anthony has done so much since his summer from hell in 2004, the year of the Olympics and the since-dropped marijuana charge and the club fight and the DVD, to prove that he's not your garden-variety, too-much too-soon knucklehead. So what does he do, when his star is peaking, on the league's most venerated stage? He becomes a Garden-variety knucklehead.

All of two days after the image rehab seemed, if not complete, then in full motion with his extra-generous gift of a youth center in his hometown. The fight will never taint or take away from the beauty of his deed; Anthony might be sidelined for the next month and the butt of jokes all over America, but those kids still have a center they wouldn't otherwise have had.

Still, with that and his superlative play so far this season, he showed that he hasn't figured it all out yet, and he's paying for it now.


It's all infuriating, for a lot of reasons, but mostly because the struggles to handle the changes in one's life when stardom and celebrity arrive are completely understandable - but the basketball is supposed to be the easy part.

Anthony has control of his actions on the court as he does in few other places in life - including in his appearance on that DVD. Meanwhile, few points have been made by Stern more vehemently than what will happen if anything happens to bring on memories, replays or discussions of Auburn Hills. Dress codes, gun-possession policies, zero-tolerance ref rules - all lightweight topics compared with fighting.

And it's hard to imagine a player Stern least needed to see involved in this than the lone member of the new Holy Trinity (with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade) with a hint of a dark past.

That's why 15 games is not too harsh, not in Anthony's case. Because he, of all the players in today's NBA, should have known better.