NBA at 75: Why can’t we just appreciate Carmelo Anthony?

NBA at 75, New York Knicks

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Carmelo Anthony’s career resume has everything but an NBA championship. Why can’t we just love him for what he has accomplished?

One thing is for sure — nobody on the NBA 75th Anniversary Team was or is as disrespected as Carmelo Anthony. Not while they were still playing. Not by their old coaches. Not by their fans.

Carmelo Anthony is one of the most polarizing and difficult to pin down players in NBA history. But, ask any of his fellow teammates, those that played against him, hell, even the other guys on the 75th Anniversary list, you’ll hear how he deserves to be there and is one of the all-time greats.

Anthony is one of the greatest scorers of all time. He ranks ninth all-time in total points, behind Shaquille O’Neal and ahead of Moses Malone. According to Stat Head Basketball, a total of 4,374 players have played in at least one NBA game. Anthony scored more points than 4,365 of them. Let that sink in for a moment.

Anthony stormed into the league scoring the ball. He averaged 21 points per game his rookie season. Today, 19 years later and at 37-years-old, he is the third-oldest player in the NBA and still averaging 13 points per game. e. To put it plainly, only a handful of players have scored better than Anthony in the history of the NBA. So what’s the issue? Well, he will be the first to tell you his career is incomplete until he wins a championship. Here’s Anthony speaking on “The Daily Show” about his lack of a title,

“There’s nothing that I’m trying to prove. If I hadn’t picked L.A., I would have been at peace walking away from the game, knowing that I gave everything I could and I still couldn’t win a championship. I would have been at peace with that. I would have been good. But now that I’m with the Lakers, I can’t be at peace with not winning a championship (laughs).”

Up until Anthony was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017, he had never played with another superstar in their prime. Allen Iverson was 31-years-old when he joined Anthony and the Nuggets in 2006. Anthony spent the prime years of his career playing on a talented Nuggets team devoid of a superstar sidekick and then a Knicks team filled with aging vets and one-dimensional role players.

Suppose Anthony had been paired with another superstar earlier in his career, as contemporaries Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh did with Miami. In that case, it could have put him in a position to compete for a championship. Instead, Anthony endured alone, partly because of inept front-offices and partly because he chased the bag instead of taking less to play alongside better talent. When it came time for Anthony to sign his rookie extension in 2006, he signed a five-year, $80 million extension while his peers, James, Bosh, and Wade, signed a four-year contract.

Like many of us who grew up with nothing and suddenly had a lot of something, Anthony went for the extra year, eliminating his ability to team up with his friends and contemporaries upon the next free agency period. In the seven and a half seasons with Denver, Anthony played with only two All-Stars, Iverson (twice) and Chauncey Billups (twice). It was even worse in New York, where Anthony spent the majority of his prime, where he played alongside a single All-Star season by Tyson Chandler.

Ask anyone who calls themselves a fan of Anthony, especially Knicks fans, and you will find vastly different opinions about his time with their team. On the one hand, he was a bonafide ball-stopper. He averaged 2.8 assists per game for his career. But, who else on the teams he played for would you rather see with the ball in their hands? Especially on those Knicks teams. Landry Fields? Toney Douglas? Jared Jeffries? He had a combination of jab-steps, step-backs, pull-ups, and pump fakes that rival any great offensive player in NBA history. The dude was flat-out unstoppable in isolation sets. But it’s the way he scored in those ISO plays that also caused much friction to those who wanted to root for him.

Carmelo Anthony’s legacy is unfortunately tied up with his often disappointing team results

Anthony’s teams reached the Western Conference Finals just once, while never appearing in the Finals. With the Nuggets, he led the team to the playoffs every single season as the team’s best player. With the Knicks, he led them to the playoffs three out of seven seasons. With New York, he raised his game in most statistical categories in the playoffs, leading the Knicks out of the first round once in 2013. He played as hard as he could and carried a talent-depleted team on his back, playing alongside a collection of broken and aging point guards: Mike Bibby, Baron Davis, Jason Kidd.

The 10-time All-Star, six-time All NBA Team, 2013 NBA scoring champion, and three-time Olympic Gold Medalist is one of the best offensive players of all time. He escaped the tragic gang violence of the Red Hook housing projects in Brooklyn and then Baltimore to become an NCAA, Olympic champion and one of the greatest of all time. But, that damn championship. Ultimately, that’s what it all comes down to. It’s the lack of an NBA championship that Anthony is criticized the most for. And it’s a fair judgment.

For many of those first 10 seasons, it seemed Anthony was most concerned with his own statistics. But there were also playoff runs where he gave it his absolute all and raised the level of play of his teammates, such as in 2013 when Knicks teammates Tyson Chandler won Defensive Player of the Year, and J.R. Smith won 6th Man of the Year. Alas, it’s not enough for some. The proof is in the statistical success teammates of Anthony had playing with him. Teammates had their best statistical years and playoff success alongside him. Like Smith, Chauncey Billups, Nene, Raymond Felton. HIs teams made the playoffs when he was the best player. For some naysayers, it was never enough. That’s just how it is for Anthony. It’s what separates him from other greats on the 75th-anniversary list. He is a lightning rod for criticism. Some earned, some because people just love to hate.

Up until 2021, Anthony was the all-time leader in points scored in Men’s Olympic Basketball history. Those points led to three gold medals as a starter for the Men’s Team. Anthony’s playing style adapted alongside his superstar peers. He showed he could evolve change for the betterment of the team. It’s a shame he was never surrounded with equal talent in the NBA. He could have shown us all that he could do if given a fair shot at winning it all.

For all the work Anthony did as an early advocate for racial justice issues, way before it was trendy, and the scoring prowess, and blockbuster viewing pleasure, it wasn’t enough to keep him from being seemingly blackballed by the NBA in 2018. To top it off, he was waived by the Houston Rockets after playing in only 10 games. It was one of the most confounding happenings in modern NBA history. One of the greatest scorers the game had ever seen couldn’t find a single NBA team to give him a chance. He had averaged 16 and six the year before with OKC. So why the hell was Anthony out of the league? Rumors and murmurs began to percolate about Anthony’s will to win and ball-dominant nature. Disgusting quotes from former Nuggets coach George Karl on Anthony’s upbringing and lack of a father figure were repeated on major sports networks when discussing Anthony’s absence from the game.

Once the Portland Trailblazers gave Anthony an opportunity to return on a one-year, non-guaranteed deal, he immediately showed why he still belonged. He averaged 15 and five that season at 35-years-old, putting him on a short list of players to do so at that age. So what’s it all about, this harangue of hate towards Anthony?

Think about all Anthony has accomplished. Say it out loud and to anyone listening: three-time Olympic gold medalist, NCAA Champion, All-Star, All-NBA, top-10 scorer, civil rights leader, activist, author, father, King of New York, one of the 75 greatest players in NBA history. Sounds like one of the greatest to ever do it, doesn’t it?

Check out more reflections in our NBA at 75 series and subscribe to The Whiteboard to make sure you keep up with all our latest NBA news and analysis.

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