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  • Writer's pictureJoshua U.

The Complicated Legacy of Carmelo Anthony

After 19 seasons, 10 All-Star selections, 6 All-NBA teams, 28,289 career points, two seasons lost to being blackballed, and at least 100 "FUCKOUTTAHEREIGOTITs", Carmelo Anthony is walking away from the NBA, announcing his retirement with a heartwarming video message on his social media, reflecting on his career & shining light on his son Kiyan to carry the torch forward.

IMAGE: New York legend Carmelo Anthony and son Kiyan greet the Madison Square Garden crowd while displayed on the jumbotron during Game 2 of the 2022-23 Knicks' second-round series vs the Heat.

Now, before you continue reading, you should know one thing. I land somewhere in-between "a little biased" and "shamelessly fucking biased" when it comes to Melo. He is... was, my favorite player, based almost solely on the fact that this man chose the Knicks and the Madison Square Garden stage when seemingly no other superstar talent would share in that same willingness. He didn't just want the challenges that came with wearing "NEW YORK" across his chest -- he craved it.

The defining moment of Carmelo Anthony's career came in 2011. Anthony was due to become a free agent after the season, and had a 3 yr, $65 million extension offer on the table from the Denver Nuggets, the franchise that drafted him 3rd overall in 2003, and the team he had played 8 seasons with and scored 13,970 points for.

Before Anthony arrived in Denver, the franchise was in flux, enduring 8 consecutive losing seasons leading up to the the 2003 Draft. In the season immediately preceding Melo's arrival, the Nuggets finished with an abysmal 17-65 record, tying the Cleveland Cavaliers for the worst mark in the league. In Melo's rookie season, Denver experienced an unbelievable turnaround with a 26 game win increase -- from 17 to 43 -- and a playoff berth! The Nuggets never missed the playoffs in Melo's time there. Not once!

And it's not like Melo had the greatest collection of talent there either. Yeah, he played with legendary lead guards in Allen Iverson & Chauncey Billups, but in both players' stints with the franchise, they were past their prime. The height of Anthony's Nuggets' career, as it relates to team success, came in the 2009 Playoffs, leading the team to a Western Conference Finals berth, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in 6 games.

Two seasons later, Melo had a choice to make -- in part complicated by the NBA's impending, inevitable lockout in the coming Summer. Melo had always spoken highly of the city of Denver, and by all accounts, he enjoyed the community thoroughly. But, having JUST watched his '03 draft-mates LeBron James (selected 1st), Dwyane Wade (4th), and Chris Bosh (5th), join forces in Miami, as well as his super-scorer peer Kobe Bryant just cap off back-to-back titles with the Lakers, Melo saw a interesting path to success of his own: joining forces with newly-signed All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire in New York with the Knicks. Anthony demanded a trade and listed the Knicks as his preferred destination. After some media-driven drama and a rival trade threat emerging in the New Jersey Nets, the Knicks pulled the trigger on Anthony on February 21st, 2011. They sent a substantial package to Denver: multiple young players, vets, picks, and pick swaps. Even with this, Denver's vitriol and hatred towards Melo for, in their words, "quitting on the franchise", still lasts to this day -- more on that later. But Anthony and the Knicks got their collective wish.

IMAGE: NYK owner James Dolan and Carmelo Anthony pose for photographs following Anthony's introductory press conference with the Knicks in February of 2011.

Summarizing Melo's Knick career is an interesting task, which requires a ton of context. Anthony was a Knick for 7 seasons. He led the team to the postseason in each of his first three seasons with the franchise, and the team never made it back in his tenure thereafter. He had several amazing moments with the Knicks:

  • His 42 pt, 17 reb effort in Game 2 on the first round vs Boston in 2011.

  • His Easter Sunday 43 point effort, including a dramatic game-tying three in regulation and an even-more poetic game-winning three in OT to beat the Chicago Bulls at the Garden.

  • His 41 point effort in a first round win over Miami, netting the Knicks their first playoff win since 2001.

  • Lead the Knicks to a 54 win, 2nd seeded season in 2012-13, winning the scoring title in the process.

  • Scored a Madison Square Garden record 62 points on Jan. 24, 2014.

Impressive stuff, no doubt. But there are many Melo critics who poo-poo these achievements, because they pale in comparison to what the ultimate goal was supposed to be upon landing the superstar. A championship... or at the very least, consistent & significant postseason success. One measly first-round series win against the aged-out Boston Celtics in 2013 wasn't that. At all.

But how much of that was really Melo's fault?

Well, if you take a look closer, the Knicks FO, in its many forms, made quite a few poor decisions in Melo's Knick tenure, ranging anywhere from detrimental to disastrous.

  • Used the NBA's amnesty provision on Chauncey Billups and not Stoudemire's contract & proceeding injury troubles.

  • Traded for the disappointing former #1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani IMMEDIATELY following a 54 win season. The Knicks won 37 games the following year.

  • Hired Phil Jackson as President of Basketball operations.

  • Traded former Knick DPOY Tyson Chandler away for Jose Calderon.

  • Drafted Kristaps Porzingis #4 overall in 2015 (good!) and failing to surround him and Melo with the requisite pieces to win.

  • Finally traded away Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott.

Melo went on to play for the aforementioned Thunder for one season, in addition to short stints as a member of the Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, and Los Angeles Lakers to close out his career.

Wait -- I forgot about him being an Atlanta Hawk for... a couple of hours?

Anyway, my point is: Melo's personal run of greatness consisted in Denver and New York. Yet, there seems to be real doubt that Anthony's numbers -- his Nuggets #15 and his Knicks #7 -- will actually be honored & retired in either spot.

He absolutely did enough in Denver to deserve that honor. But, as stated before, the vast majority of Nuggets fans, and a solid amount of people within the Nuggets organization, hate his fucking guts because of the way everything went down in 2011. They gave his #15 to journeyman Anthony Randolph during his last run in the league, and after that? To second-round pick from Serbia, Nikola Jokic.

Now, we all know what Jokic has turned into in the present-day. With that being said, let's not lose sight of the disrespect the Nuggets were hurling in Melo's direction in doing this. At that point, Melo had been BY FAR the best player in the history of the franchise, and following his trade, his number was given to a benchwarmer that now plays pro ball in Slovenia, and an unknown pudgy Serbian kid that was drafted 41st overall during a Taco Bell quesarito commercial.

No, I wasn't kidding. This was ESPN's broadcast during Nikola Jokic's selection in the 2014 NBA Draft.

With Jokic's unprecedented rise as a 2x MVP and a potential NBA champion dependent on the results of this week's NBA Finals, he's completely taken the Nuggets no. 15 and ran with it. It's now extremely difficult to see a pathway for Melo's jersey being retired in Denver. A shame, but what are you gonna do? Petty is petty.

As far as the Knicks giving Melo the honor? Far more likely, according to SNY sources that are telling well-respected insider Ian Begley that there's significant support and momentum towards the decision being made to lift Melo's #7 to the rafters.

This would unquestionably be the correct decision as far as I see things. As for the debate on the larger Knick scale, it gets a bit more tricky.

In terms of players that played/coached for the Knicks, (Bill Russell's #6 is retired across the NBA) the Knicks have retired 9 numbers, most notable Walt "Clyde" Frazier's #10, the late captain Willis Reed's #19, and Patrick Ewing's #33. There's one thing that all the Knicks' retirees have in common -- SIGNIFICANT postseason success. Championships, in the case of Frazier, Reed, Dave Debusschere, Earl Monroe, Dick Barnett, Dick McGuire, and Red Holzman -- and in the case of Ewing, 7 All-NBA selections, 11 All-Star selections, and 13 consecutive playoff berths. Melo didn't even reach those marks as a Knick in terms of the longevity and the total amount of accolades.

But as I stated before... there's something to be said about wanting the Knicks. There's no question Melo did. He accepted the challenge, falling on plenty of swords for his lackluster teammates along the way. He was a professional at every stage. He never shied away from the big moment, make-or-miss. Looking at the Knicks now, you could say he set the standard for a guy like Jalen Brunson to follow, in terms of being a New York Knick.

Melo will always have his critics. The George Karls of it all. Many will say he is this generation's Charles Barkley, a player that possessed great talent and supreme, God-given scoring ability, but was unable to capture an NBA championship to secure his legacy. Anthony has gone on the record multiple times of late, stating that he's "at peace" with never capturing a title, because he "did everything in his power to get it." In watching him his entire career, I can't disagree.

Melo never got the opportunity to "finesse the system" like his counterparts LeBron James and Kevin Durant to form super-teams in his prime. He could've been drafted 2nd overall by the Detroit Pistons, instead of Darko Milicic, which, in my opinion, would've resulted on a early title OR titles for Melo, but he didn't get that lucky break for... some reason. An old NBA fable also tells the story of Anthony choosing not to match up his second contract's end-date with LeBron's and Dwyane Wade's for the 2010 summer, which could've (and probably would've) led to Anthony becoming the third cog in the wheel of the Heat's Big 3, instead of Chris Bosh. Alas, it ain't happen that way, and the history is what the history is.

I'll choose to remember Melo as a fearless, relentless bully on the court -- the late, great Kobe Bryant called him such. He ruled the elbow area for 19 years with the triple threat post position. He was one of the NBA's few truly-gifted three-level scorers over the 76-year history of the Association. He was a cultural icon, both on and off the court, especially to those from Red Hook or West Baltimore, those from NYC or the DMV, because Anthony never once forgot where he came from, and how it built him up to be the player and man he became. Carmelo Anthony retires with the ninth-most points scored in league history, a testament to his consistency and longevity. He is undoubtedly a first ballot Hall of Famer -- his otherworldly scoring totals, his three Olympic Golds for Team USA Basketball, and his National Title in leading the Syracuse Orange to the NCAA mountaintop -- cement that as fact.

Carmelo Anthony burst onto the College Basketball scene in 2002-03, leading the Syracuse Orange to their only National Championship in the program's history.

Speaking of Syracuse, and Red Hook... there lies the reason above all reasons that his #7 should be hanging down from the iconic MSG ceiling in the near-future:

Carmelo Anthony WAS and IS New York.

From the beginning, to the middle,

and at the end.


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