Carmelo Anthony’s most unpardonable fault in the view of countless Knicks fans is that he didn’t mirror the greatness of LeBron James in a little more than six full seasons with the franchise.
Few players in the history of basketball have equaled or surpassed James’ individual brilliance and team accomplishments as the three-time NBA champion and four-time league MVP is arguably among the five best of all time. But when the Brooklyn-born Anthony, at 26 years old, became a Knick in February 2010 via a trade with the Denver Nuggets, far too many unrealistic and overzealous fans placed upon him the burden of being a force that would single-handedly propel the Knicks to an NBA title or at minimum an Eastern Conference championship.
At the time, he was one of the NBA’s most compelling and signature stars, having led the Denver Nuggets to the playoffs in each of his first seven seasons with the organization, playing a total of 45 postseason games. But as the story would unfold, history would indeed prove James to be a unique and unmatched figure, without a generational peer in his ability to elevate his team and teammates, and drive them to a championship level.
Anthony played 412 regular season games with the Knicks but only 21 playoff games, a justifiably unacceptable and disconcerting number for Knicks fans who by and large showed considerable support for a player who arrived in New York with so much promise, having experienced the energy and hunger of the city’s fan base playing at the Garden in his one season for Syracuse University in the old Big East.
But the Knicks’ chief decision-makers never surrounded Anthony with the requisite complementary talent to challenge James, who in the summer of 2010 bolted the Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami, playing with a Heat team that boasted Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen as his running mates. Who’s accountable for that is up for debate.
Some argue Anthony’s desire to secure lucrative contracts with the Knicks and the timing of his demands, handcuffing former general manager Donnie Walsh’s ability to add or retain necessary talent, was the crux of the Knicks’ shortcomings. Others have maintained erstwhile team president Phil Jackson’s arrogance, lack of competency as an executive and obvious animosity toward Anthony were the primary obstacles to the Knicks’ ascension during the 10-time All-Star’s last three seasons with the franchise. Each episode is inextricably part of Anthony’s legacy.
Saturday, he returned to the Garden for the first time since being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in September. Before tipoff, Anthony was honored with a moving video tribute, and following the Knicks’ 111-96 win, he shared how he hopes he will be remembered as a Knick.
“I wanted to be here. Came here. Did what he had to do night-in and night-out, whether people liked it or not,” Anthony said. “Remained positive through all the negative situations, all the negative times. Stuck with it through good times, through bad times. Never wavered. Somebody who stayed professional throughout my seven years here.
“And somebody who had hopes and dreams of winning a championship here in New York and fell short of that,” he added. “So that’s something that I will always hold over my head as far as it comes to that. But I’ll always be kind of part of this culture here. And for me it’s different from any other basketball player that comes through here that plays with the Knicks because it’s deeper than basketball when it comes to me and this city.”
The decisive narrative has yet to be determined.