What is Carmelo Anthony?
It’s a question we’ve spent decades trying to answer, but have failed to produce a consensus resolution – responses range from “the best scorer on planet earth” to “overrated high volume shooter who does nothing to help his teammates” while touching every base in-between. He’s one of if not the most polarizing NBA players not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant – can we at least all agree on that?
But why? Carmelo Anthony has never finished better than third in the NBA’s MVP voting, he’s never made it to the NBA Finals, and the teams he plays on, with the exception of the 2008-2009 Denver Nuggets and 2012-2013 Knicks, are irrelevant when it comes to getting serious and talking about legitimate title contenders.
Despite these brutally-true hypotheses, Knicks fans (myself included) will defend this man and his legacy as a superstar to the death. I’m talking Maximus vs. Commodus in the Coliseum only one of us is leaving alive type of seriousness.
The adamant emotion associated with talking about this topic can be mostly blamed on Stockholm Syndrome suffered by believing in and ultimately being let down by the New York Knicks franchise. In more laments terms: think of rooting for the Knicks as owning a rambunctious, won’t listen to you no matter what dog. Other owners look down on and scorn you for being a bad owner, but you know you’ve put in years of time, effort, and care in attempt to make it a more obedient, loving member of your family. You are allowed to discipline your dog, but if another owner and/or stranger implements their will on your pet – despite their good intentions – you’re not listening. In fact, you’re telling them to piss off and prepared to throw fists. All those poops you cleaned up off the carpet, all those times you ran after it escaped the leash, all those shoes you had to re-buy because they were torn to shreds by the pup when you were in the shower — no-one tells you how to take care of this creature other than you.
This is where it starts with the fans – since 2011, when Carmelo was traded to New York from the Denver Nuggets, he has been Knicks fans’ pride and joy for a couple reasons:
- We generally believed he would be our LeBron James and resurrect the franchise from six feet under of irrelevance to a legitimate championship contender.
- Knicks fans wanted to justify trading a roster of young, fun, franchise-building role players (Gallinari, Chandler, Mozgov) in exchange for one star.
The latter of which is the DNA of everything that encompasses the franchise. For the past 20 years, the Knicks have been chronic abusers of liquidating their assets in exchange for veteran players who never live up to expectations. Subsequently, the Knicks whiff on their talent evaluations like Pedro Cerrano trying to hit a curveball (i.e. Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Tracy McGrady, Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Antonio McDyess, Allan Houston’s extension) and are stuck under a mountain of bad contracts until they expire and the draft picks they traded to sign said bad contracts return years down the road – just for the process to repeat itself over-and-over-and-over again.
But this one … the Carmelo Anthony trade … this was the one. He’s that good. It was different than all the rest. Melo was a sure-thing. The sure thing. It didn’t matter who else was on the team at the time — if he built it, they would come. We see it every time he plays on the Olympic team, he’s the best player on the floor.
But why doesn’t that success ever translate to the Knicks?
His incredible talent is a two-headed sword for his supporters, because Knicks fans expect him to retire with championship accolades – but instead he has become New York’s Allen Iverson, a perennial superstar cult hero who fans will defend to the death with nothing but game tape to help prove their point. It’s the whole, never-ending “only thing that matters is RINGZ” vs. “you don’t have to win a championship to be considered one of the best” argument.
Every time Melo dribbles around for five seconds and launches an 18-foot contested jump shot (brick) is an 0-for-1 in the box score, and just another instance of “Ball Hog Melo being Ball Hog Melo” to the mainstream audience. In Knicks fans’ opinions, what these viewers don’t see is the Knicks’ pathetic attempt to score using the hilariously archaic ‘triangle offense’, an offensive set which produces Carmelo getting the ball in the corner, heavily-defended, with hardly any time on the shot clock to do anything but shoot a difficult shot.
Even I’m willing to admit this sounds a little whiny. Melo knew what he was signing up for when he signed not one, but two max contracts with the organizations. If he wanted teammates capable of making him better and/or of “elite” status – he could have very easily taken a pay cut (i.e. Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade) and opened up salary cap room for Phil Jackson to go out and assemble a roster that didn’t spend the entire 2015 season sitting on the bench in suits.
In-between these two mindsets is the Melo that everyone knows – a prolific scorer who plays with the burden of the franchise on his shoulders. It’s a blessing and a curse; while his talent is unquestioned, his decision-making notoriously is. When he feels like he has to single-handedly take over a game for his team to come out victorious, stopping ball movement, and singling himself out in isolation — that is the moment when even his most passionate supporters (the Madison Square Garden faithful) turn on him.
Knicks fans love to hate Melo when he does stuff like this, but hate that they will always love him. He is essentially the high school crush who you broke up with at the end of senior year because the two of you were going to different colleges – as bad as you want to move on to something new, you know when you go back home for Thanksgiving break, no matter what your new relationship status is, the two of you are relapsing that whole “we should just be friends” thing and hooking up.
Granted … Anthony, along with Amare Stoudemire, made professional basketball relevant in New York City again. The Knicks have only made it as far as the second round of the playoffs ONCE since acquiring the two, but, where the franchise is now versus before their signings has fans feeling like Forrest Gump in the Mojave Desert as his jogging pace slows to a complete standstill – thousands of miles covered, appearance being a disheveled resemblance of what everyone remembered you as at your best, and now standing in the middle of nowhere with no direction whatsoever.
What’s to make of all this? Knicks fans know what Carmelo Anthony is, what he will be, and what he represents. By no means does “being a fan” of a certain team entitle your opinion to supersede another’s, but, in the case of Melo and the fan base which has turned this recreational sport into religion — ‘The Mecca of Basketball’ – it creates a unique, unprecedented mentality of insecurity, desire, and at times: irrational loyalty.
So, when you bring up this topic to a fan of the team in the future – be prepared to catch the discussion in the corner, only seconds left on the shot clock to make your point, with the expectation to swish the conversation every single time… and you’ll see what it’s like to be consumed by the one of the league’s most exasperating characters.