Believe it or not, with any sports figure a reputation can become pretty set in stone rather quickly, if not unfairly. It’s nearly impossible for that person to change her or his perception within the public or even with peers unless she or he — an athlete, coach, executive or even a media personality — does something remarkable and undeniable.
The reputation, or rather perception, of Carmelo Anthony has always been shaped by who he isn’t just as much as who he actually is. The fact that he isn’t his friend and draft-mate LeBron James, both in style and playoff success, has dogged him for over a decade. And while his youthful transgressions in his early years have given way to a mature leader on and off the court, some people, including New York Knicks fans, continue to buy in to any criticism that can paint him in an unflattering light. Coach killer, ball hog, jealous of having to share the spotlight with anyone, etc.
So despite the team’s solid season thus far, the re-entry of George Karl, his former Denver Nuggets coach, into the basketball news cycle has been another uncomfortable bump in the road. In spite of the flood of deserved criticisms for statements he made in an upcoming memoir, what Karl — a coach who became the NBA’s version of a regifted holiday fruitcake in spite of his credentials — might have noticed are the legions of people who actually agree with him. That, in and of itself, is about as offensive and maddening as the actual excerpts.
While hard to quantify, there’s likely an insidious, if not predictably dumb, racial influence to the peanut gallery’s collective nodding. To borrow the go-to word among political pundits, the optics in this are terrible but too easy to pass up: an older and debatably wiser white authority figure diagnosing his young, immediately affluent, rough-around-the-edges black athletes with unfounded daddy issues.
Yet, if you had the chance to see the rest of Karl’s assertion of Anthony and his two-time teammates Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith, you may have scratched your head. Courtesy of Pro Basketball Talk:
As you’ve read, I grew up in a safe suburban neighborhood, with both my parents. I had a second father in my college coach, the most moral, decent man I ever knew. And I never made enough money as a player to get confused about who I was. When I compare my background to Kenyon’s and Carmelo’s, it’s no wonder we had a few problems.
So let’s see here: Suburbs good, cities bad. College basketball and morality (though in fairness, his college coach had true human decency). The usual consternation about athletes and money. When you compare his assumptions to his coaching record, no wonder the best players he ever had hate his guts.
Karl may very well have had his reasons for the frayed relationships with his players, whether they were All-Stars and future Hall of Famers or guys who never got off the pine for weeks. Yet, there are plenty of combustible coach-star player relationships that haven’t exploded quite like the one between Karl and Anthony. How he’s needled the forward since the 2011 trade that sent Melo to New York is the epitome of the pot/kettle conundrum. Isn’t the one who grew up in a two-parent home in the suburbs, who sipped from the well of a college basketball institution and had to earn every dollar supposed to avoid the petulant behavior of “these punk kids”?
And yet, Anthony said this to the Bergen (New Jersey) Daily Record after the Knicks beat the Orlando Magic on Thursday night:
"Nothing disappoints me anymore. I’m past being disappointed. I just hope that he finds happiness in what he’s doing. His book, hopefully, will bring him happiness."
Despite the backlash — and a stream of even more rightful indignation from Kenyon Martin — unfortunately, what Karl has done is preach to the already converted. Those who refuse to see Carmelo Anthony for anything but the worst will hold on to the former coach’s attempts at pop psychology.
Then again, considering this year in our media cycle, we shouldn’t be surprised that people will keep grasping at straws to support their embittered opinions, and we shouldn't be surprised that a coach who spent his career acting like a spoiled child would lash out at the players he failed to coach to a championship.
Jason is the editor-in-chief here at TSFJ. In addition to a past life as a research analyst in advertising, television and online media, he spent seven seasons as the New York Beacon's beat writer for the New York Giants. Jason has written for Yardbarker, Dime Magazine, Decider, Awful Announcing and The Week. He is also a member of his high school's 4th period gym class floor hockey champions.
He shares more of his perspectives at jasonclinkscales.com.