In 412 games, spanning more than six seasons, the marriage between Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks was mostly harmonious. A star player playing in the place he was born, in the same state where he played his college basketball and became a hero, returns home to help lead the hometown team back to national prominence. It all sounded like a storybook.
Now, we all know it didn’t turn out the way the script was written. In those six and a half seasons, the Knicks only won one playoff series in Anthony’s Knicks tenure. After not seeing eye-to-eye with the franchise, Anthony was ushered away in a trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder before the start of the 2017-18 season.
Now a member of the Portland Trail Blazers and enjoying somewhat of a renaissance season at the age of 35, Anthony returned to Madison Square Garden as an opponent Wednesday for just the second time since leaving the franchise. The scene must have felt comfortable to Anthony, who went for a season-high 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds.
Starting off a new year in a familiar place, Anthony is embarking on a journey that has resurrected his public image a bit. For a while, it seemed Anthony was falling out of favor with the league, failing to adapt to its changing ways. Then, he literally fell out of the league, sitting on the sidelines to see if anyone else was going to take a chance on him. The narrative had turned from that of a superstar enjoying great individual success in the league to a bitter star who thought he was still super and could not come to grips with his fading stardom.
Enter Portland, in need of some offense, while Anthony was in need of a fresh start.
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In six short weeks, Anthony has seemed to turn his story around from bitter former superstar to team player fitting in seamlessly with the Blazers. He is appreciating this new beginning and, in return, that appreciation is being reciprocated back by the NBA. The warm reception he got from the Knicks faithful was evidence that Anthony’s legacy is largely a positive one.
Anthony is helping the Blazers rebound from a sluggish start as they try to get back in the playoffs again this season after advancing to the Western Conference Finals last season. With the focus on winning and just plain basketball, Anthony has stayed out of the limelight for the wrong reasons and is enjoying success being part of a team.
Often times, stories and legacies unfold in ways nobody can foresee. Many, including Anthony himself, probably envisioned his career having several deep runs in the playoffs and maybe even a championship for two. His instant success with Syracuse, leading them to a championship in his only season on the SU hill, seemed to prognosticate professional success on a grand scale, as well.
While his career has yielded zero championships, things like 10 All-Star appearances and sitting in 18th on the all-time scoring list illustrate a Hall of Fame career. Remember, it is the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, not the NBA Hall of Fame. Things like leading Syracuse to an NCAA title in 2003 matter. Being one of the most decorated Olympic basketball players counts. Appreciating Carmelo Anthony for what he has been instead of what he has not been feels like the appreciation coming full circle as he nears the end of his career.
If he fails to win a championship in his career, Anthony’s name will go in the group that includes Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and John Stockton: all Hall-of-Famers who never reached the ultimate mountaintop. And just as all those men are heralded among the all-time greats, Anthony, too, will have his place there.
This most recent trip back to MSG helps shed light on where Anthony sits at this point in his career: appreciated by fans (even by those whose uniform he no longer wears), appreciated by basketball historians. And, most importantly, he is once again appreciating his place in the game and the opportunity before him. Sometimes, coming back home can do a lot to reset the mind and get the story back on track.
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