Carmelo Anthony’s tenure with the Knicks was full of great moments and should be looked back on fondly.
Carmelo Anthony was traded to the New York Knicks on my birthday. It was the sweetest birthday gift a struggling Knicks fan could ever ask for. The Knicks now had two legitimate star players for the first time in my adult life, and it was one of the two players that made me fall in love with basketball.
My first vivid memory of basketball is the infamous Shaq-to-Kobe lob, with some vague Patrick Ewing, Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston moments sprinkled in. I was alive for the 1999 NBA Finals but was more interested in playing with Ninja Turtles than dissecting a basketball game.
My love for the game would not come until 2003 when Carmelo Anthony led the Syracuse Orange to the national championship. What made the championship run so special beyond the hyper-local appeal was the fact Carmelo was Puerto Rican.
I’m not sure if it was just my anxiety or if others felt this way, but 11-year-old me felt like an outsider watching, and enjoying, basketball. Growing up, traditional Puerto Rican sports were baseball and boxing, where there was Bernie Williams, Tito Trinidad, and before them Roberto Clemente Wilfredo Gomez. There were no Puerto Ricans in basketball.
So, I latched on to Carmelo Anthony. Watching one of my own tear up college basketball washed away any imposter syndrome I had. From 2003 on, I would enjoy Kobe, learn the greatness of Michael Jordan, and enjoy the dominance of Shaq. But my two favorite players would always be LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Fast-forward seven years. The Knicks fumbled any chance they had at LeBron, meaning all that shameless losing and roster clearing was for not. Instead of LeBron, I had to live with Danilo Gallinari as my team’s best player. Amar’e Stoudemire saved Knicks fans from that. I love Gallo as much as the next person, but if that is your best player…yikes.
There was the Chris Paul toast in June 2010, promising a big three of him, Amar’e and Carmelo. Amar’e played his part by emptying his turbo bar (and remaining knee cartilage) to bring the Knicks back to relevancy. STAT’s sacrifice should never be underestimated. It was his ridiculous run to start the 2010-11 season that made it possible for Carmelo’s arrival.
Carmelo’s patience, or lack thereof for some, cost the Knicks a shot at the Point God, who would not hit the open market until 2012. Had Anthony waited for the lockout to pass, the Knicks could have instead emptied their assets for Paul. But it is much easier for others to talk about others’ money. Carmelo did not want to wait for the unknown. While the deal has become a polarizing topic, the trade itself was good. The moves the Knicks made following the trade were not so good.
Melo was good from the start. Returning home to New York, the Red Hook native put on for his city. While the team waited to rebuild around Carmelo over the summer, he picked up the baton from Stoudemire, who had the Knicks headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
In that first-round series against the Boston Celtics, the team found out how much help Carmelo would need to turn this thing around. A sad running theme for Stoudemire in New York was missing every possible playoff series with a freak injury, in this series it was a tweaked back during the pregame layup line.
A one-man army approach almost worked in Game 2. Carmelo would torch the Celtics for 42 points in what would end up being his finest single-game playoff performance in New York, as he also pulled down 17 rebounds and dished out six assists in the three-point loss.
The problem was Carmelo’s number two was Toney Douglas, who added just 14 points on 31.3% shooting. The series would end in a sweep as the Celtics’ big three were on their last stand against the incoming reign of LeBron.
Much like Jordan was the roadblock that Ewing would never pass, LeBron was that for Carmelo, only LeBron didn’t pause mid-prime to play baseball. His Miami Heat teams would run the East during the Knicks’ best years under Carmelo, sweeping them in the 2012 postseason. LeBron’s peak would coincide with Carmelo’s.
One thing that LeBron cannot take away was Carmelo and the Knicks’ golden year. Prior to this season under Jalen Brunson, 2012-13 was far and away the most enjoyable Knick season since the 1990s. In that season, Carmelo would plant his flag on Easter, claiming Madison Square Garden as his house.
“THIS IS MY HOUSE” –@carmeloanthony
Easter Sunday was extra special in NYC back on this date in 2012.
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) April 8, 2020
The signature moment would be just one of the many great moments from that season. Carmelo would win the league scoring title that year, J.R. Smith would win Sixth Man of the Year, and the Knicks would win 54 games — still their highest win total since 1997 — on their way to securing the second seed in the East.
In the first round of that postseason, Carmelo and the Knicks made game of the Celtics before J.R. elbowed Jason Terry back to 2011. The elbow messed with the team’s mojo and would trigger a series of unfortunate events I will not mention because Roy Hibbert proved to be a mirage of a player.
It felt like it was fate for Carmelo to meet LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals, with Carmelo’s supporting cast finally good enough to match the king. Fate clearly had other plans, which was not necessarily a good thing for Carmelo or the Knicks.
The irony of that 2012-13 Knicks team and Carmelo was that it was ahead of its time. Carmelo played the modern-day four before it was the modern day, only he hated playing it. It is unfair to say that his unwillingness to play at the four full-time directly resulted in Andrea Bargnani landing in NYC, but it certainly cleared the way for that to happen.
After 2013, things were not great. All the bad feelings fans have about Carmelo likely started to form around this time. The good times became far and few between as the core of that great golden year squad evaporated quickly.
Carmelo’s final signature moment would come in 2014, his greatest feat as a Knick. On a random edition of Friday Night Knicks, Carmelo started the game out on fire. It was nothing too out of the norm. Carmelo finished the first quarter with 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting, amazing, yet believable for a player who scored 50 points on straight jump shots.
Things started to feel special by halftime. Carmelo did not cool off. It was a showcase in every way Carmelo could torture a defender. He mixed in elbow jumpers with drives to the basket. He bullied defenders on the block and hit nothing but net on three-pointers. He brought out his patented jab step and his spin.
That was all normal. The moment that you felt something special was going down that night came at the half. Carmelo grabbed a rebound, raced toward halfcourt and hit nothing but net as time expired to finish the half with 37 points. He had a chance to join special company, and reset the single-game scoring record for MSG.
The magic number was 62. It would put him one point above Kobe Bryant, two above his favorite player growing up, Bernard King, and bring the record back to the home team. Carmelo played that second half like he knew what number he had to get to. He added 19 more points in the third and would cap off the record in classic Melo fashion–beating a double team to the baseline to bank in his 62nd point of the night.
What made the night special is that it was the last meaningful moment before J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and others would leave the team. It felt like a goodbye from that Knick core, despite how small their window was. And for Carmelo Anthony, he solidified his legacy in New York with a true signature moment that would live on.
Everything that would follow this game is unmemorable. James Dolan would bring in Phil Jackson to run things, which looked like a godsend at first, but became a disaster quickly. The Zen Master and Melo were a toxic match for each other, with the former unleashing an odd smear campaign against his best player.
Jackson came in and gutted the roster from Mike Woodson down to Raymond Felton. That still did not scare Carmelo away from once again securing the biggest bag he could, staying on the sinking ship. He would play just 40 games the next season as the Knicks won 17 games in Derek Fisher’s first year as head coach.
Not surprisingly, critics chided Carmelo for being greedy, choosing to stay with a now-rebuilding Knicks team over joining Kobe in LA or a great core of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah in Chicago. The tide changed briefly as the Knicks finally stumbled upon some luck in the 2015 draft. Jackson’s one good move as team president was drafting Kristaps Porzingis fourth overall in 2015.
Porzingis’ hot start as a rookie breathed life into Carmelo and the team, resulting in a trade for Rose and the signing of Noah a season later. That “superteam” may have been better suited to compete in Chicago two years prior, because the team would win 31 games. It was the last gasp for Carmelo in New York. He would be traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder the season after, unknowingly helping New York land Mitchell Robinson with the second-round pick included in the deal.
And just like that, it was over.
Despite leaving on bad terms with Jackson, Carmelo is and always will be well-received in New York. Some fans who enjoy advanced metrics a little too much have yet to come around to the fun ride Carmelo in New York was, but he really did help restore the feeling of excitement when watching the Knicks.
Now that he is officially retired, basketball fans can look back and realize one of the best scorers this game has ever seen called Madison Square Garden his home. And don’t take my word for it — take Kobe’s, or Paul Pierce’s, or Kevin Durant’s. Whatever your opinion is on his “willingness to win”, it is not up for debate how prolific a scorer Melo was.
It feels weird saying that in the past tense now. And it is sad he was blackballed from the league towards the end of his career. Who knows how much higher up the scoring list he could have climbed? We have the rest of time to debate that at gyms, barbershops and family parties.
For now, Carmelo Anthony ends his career ninth on the all-time scoring list with 28,289 points. He is the most decorated Olympian for USA Basketball with the most games played (31), second in points (336) and three gold medals. He is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and should have his jersey hung in the rafters of Madison Square Garden.
The new hot debate around Melo is whether should he have his jersey retired, while a guy like Bernard King was passed over. There is a simple solution to this problem: retire both. Carmelo and Bernard had eerily similar arcs in New York in the big picture. Neither made the Knicks bonafide contenders, yet restored a feeling of excitement when you went to watch a game.
No matter what, you knew that if Carmelo Anthony was playing that night, you could see some prolific scoring. Whether it was his picture-perfect jumper, putting poor Brandon Bass, or whatever poor power forward had to guard him in a blender on the baseline, watching Carmelo was fun more times than it was not.
I never got to see Bernard King in his prime but I hear similar sentiments. This is not an original idea, but an idea I support. Retire King and Melo’s jerseys — recognize them for their contributions to the franchise.
Maybe the team feels it is too late for King. It is not too late for Melo. He made seven All-Star teams in New York, is seventh on their all-time scoring list and still holds that precious MSG single-game scoring record. Retiring #7 would make him only the third Knick to make it to the rafters without winning a championship, with Patrick Ewing being the second and Dick McGuire the first.
I leave that decision up to the guys who get paid a lot of money by James Dolan. For my part, I just say thank you, Melo. Thank you for not just coming to New York, but enjoying being here.
As the phrase goes: Once a Knick, always a Knick. Carmelo Anthony will always be a Knick in my mind, a Knick legend who should never be forgotten.