Basket Brawl Recalls NBA's Image Troubles

"Gardens" and "palaces" are typically the setting for balls, not brawls. But on Saturday night at NBA's Madison Square Garden in New York, spectators witnessed a bench-clearing punching match between players from the New York Knicks and the Denver Nuggets.

The Madison Square Garden incident brought to mind 2004's infamous clash between the Detriot Pistons and the Indiana Pacers, which went down at the Palace in Detroit. Since then, the NBA has worked hard to clean up its image, but now even the smallest scuffles have wide-reaching implications affecting more than just the players involved.

There are many similarities between the two fights. Both games were blowouts and the outcome was already determined when the fights broke out near the end of the fourth quarter.

But Saturday's brawl was kept to the court. USA Today columnist and ABC News consultant Christine Brennan said that fact separates the Knicks vs. Nuggets fight from the Detroit debacle.

"The big difference is that the players didn't go into the stands," Brennan said. "That's a huge difference in the sense that it was a basketball brawl on the court. The visual image has a familiar look to it … but it didn't escalate into the stands.

Sports analysts say that Saturday's fight was a number three on a chaos scale, while the Pistons-Pacers brawl was a 10. But since 2004, every bit of hostility that hits the hardwood is being closely scrutinized by the league.

When considering what punishment to impose on the 10 players involved in Saturday's incident, the Pistons-Pacers match-up will be fresh in their minds.

"The Palace brawl was a huge black eye for the league," said ESPN.com writer Chris Sheridan. "They're going to look at this fight through a prism."

Although the Knicks-Nuggets fight wasn't quite so harsh, Brennan said it will be hard to escape the shadow of one of the most epic episodes in basketball history.

"This event still evokes that sense of sports lawlessness that was evoked two years ago," she said.

Kids Want to 'Be Like Mike' -- Jordan not Tyson

The Knicks-Nuggets scuffle may have looked a bit like a boxing match, but it's not supposed to. The NBA is a global league with a much broader audience. Basketball is watched by millions across the world, including many children.

In the era of Michael Jordan, kids wanted to "be like Mike." Today, they look up to the league's leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony, a Nugget player who was ejected after getting involved in the fight Saturday night.

Brennan said NBA commissioner David Stern needs to take that idea into consideration when dishing out the penalty.

"There's a message to be sent not just to players but to the children in America who look up to them," she said. "Kids take their cues from these athletes, and if there's not stiff punishment then what kind of message are we sending to our kids?"

Adrenaline and Attitudes

Sheridan says it's not likely the league will be able to guarantee another fight won't happen because of the nature of competitive athletes.

"All the league can do is come down hard with penalties as a message to other players," he said. "Beyond that, there's only so much you can do when you're playing a high-contact, high-emotion sport. Things get crazy in the field of play and there's only so much you can do to prevent it."

ESPN analyst and former Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe said a highly charged competitive environment is part of the nature of professional sports.

"Carmelo regrets so much what happened last night … all the players do," he told ABC News' "Good Morning America Weekend Edition." "It happened in the heat of the moment."