By now, NBA season previews are rolling out. Countless basketball sites, podcasts, and television shows are breaking down all 30 teams; projecting how each will fare based on additions and subtractions. I would like to do something different and focus on teams through the fish-eyed lens of their respective most-intriguing player or players. I continue with the New York Knicks.
(Disclaimer: I will not discuss Derrick Rose outside of this paragraph. I will not link to articles that may be potentially triggering. He is a disgusting human being, regardless of the results of his civil trial. I do not support him or his place on my favorite NBA team. Let’s move on.)
Carmelo Anthony is the most interesting man in the NBA. From his eccentric hat collection, to what he says while grabbing defensive rebounds, to his involvement in social activism, Melo has always had a sense of individuality to him. Even as his peers win championships and the narrative around him and the Knicks drips with jokes, he stands firm that New York is where he’s supposed to be.
Carmelo played chaperone to the USA’s Men’s Basketball Team during the Olympics in Rio. He was the only player over 30 years old on the squad, and at least 3 years older than every other player. There was video of the team having a sing-along on the plane. The camera then pans to an annoyed Melo, looking at the youth with the confusion of a man from a generation before–wondering how to pronounce “Rae Sremmurd.” All his buddies who are his age stayed gone due to rest or threat of the Zika virus, so Melo was just there as Big Bro, down to being pestered by Draymond Green because of how ornery he was.
I can appreciate this stubbornness of his to stay true to his perspective of himself–to stay Melo. That inner belief served as a stabilizing rod during the shaky parts of Team USA’s journey to Olympic gold. He’s the game’s perfect international forward, and his Olympic iteration is his most heroic form. He unlocks his massive repertoire, and takes whomever is defending him through a lesson in geometry. The angles he uses to maximize every inch of confined space reminds us of just how lethal he is as a scorer. Carmelo can play basketball in a phone booth, and give the pay phone an easy 30.
Carmelo also had one of his better seasons last year. I know we label him as just being a scorer, but he played an all-around game that most have been looking for from him since he left Denver. Though he averaged his fewest points per game since his second year, and his field goal percentage was two points behind his career post, both his assists and rebounds were one better than average. It was evident he wanted to bring his teammates with him and involve them in the game as a way for the Knicks to best win games.
But the narrative–the datgum narrative. We require great NBA players to validate their careers with titles, as if they are not incredible players without them–as if we don’t mold the narrative around great players based on personal likability. It is likely that Carmelo Anthony will not win a championship, but we scoffed at his notion that he doesn’t need one to define his career as a success. That’s the kind of self-awareness we yearn for from athletes, but we still want them to be the characters we’ve created our heads, so the tales of their lore fit our plot devices. Carmelo is larger than life and too real to be bothered with existing in our superficial storylines. And for that, he deserves the respect the rest of Team USA showed him in Rio.
There is a mortality to Carmelo that few superstars have. In an existence where monarchs like LeBron rule with love and fairness, and demigods like Kobe and KD tirelessly reshape themselves into superhuman beings, Anthony is most like Christ–being divinely talented but amassing the overwhelming love from the commonfolk because of his love for the people. Captain America wears #15 for Team USA and is a proud New Yorker (with strong roots in West Baltimore) who flicks his wrist to hurl the basketball towards the rim like Cap does his trademark shield. He, like Cap, remains rooted in all of his principles, even as his contemporaries change teams and achieve success.
Despite both the warranted and unwarranted criticisms he has endured since 2003, Melo embraces it all. Even when we overlook his sublime talents and his greatness is underappreciated, Anthony remains true to whatever he feels he his as a man.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse’s good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.