Is Carmelo Anthony the Most Divisive Superstar of the Past Decade?
The NBA's unique ability to market the game as an athletic spectacle and high stakes drama has led to compelling television over the years. Breakthroughs in technology have not only provided an unprecedented level of access to athletes, but it's dramatically altered how athletes and fans engaged with each other. Years ago, hardcore fans may have documented their favorite player's journey using newspaper clippings and VCR recordings. Now fans can go on Youtube and perform a Google search to access information that may have taken months to gather in years passed. ESPN and FOX Sports have dedicated their morning programming to debate shows, creating a sea of peripheral figures in the sports realm who've become influential in their ancillary roles. These advancements have allowed us to catalog and document a player's journey from as early as grade school.
The narrative surrounding Carmelo Anthony has undoubtedly shifted over his long career, from a "one and done" darling to becoming one of the league's most divisive superstars. Let's examine how the public perception of the 10x All-Star and 3x gold medalist morphed over the years.
Showtime's "All The Smoke" podcast with former NBA players Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes recently had Rip Hamilton on as a guest. Barnes asked Hamilton how the Detroit Pistons trajectory may have changed if they drafted Carmelo Anthony instead of Darko Milicic in the 2003 NBA draft. Rip referred to Anthony with reverence calling him "a once in generational type talent," someone who could have helped the Pistons win two more championships and extended his career to 20 seasons. Rip said that he and his former teammate Chauncey Billups even wondered aloud how the narrative on LeBron James might have changed had Melo landed in Detroit in 2003.
Listening to players mention Carmelo Anthony with the likes of LeBron James may seem jarring to some younger fans who've grown up watching LeBron appear in 8 straight NBA Finals. Still, for those who witnessed the start of their respective NBA careers, this line of thinking shouldn't seem too far fetched.
Carmelo Anthony's one year at Syracuse was immaculate, he led the team in scoring, rebounding, and minutes while winning the first national championship in school history.
Entering the 2003 Draft Carmelo had done everything possible to solidify his status as a "no assembly required" scorer, a player capable of dominating on the perimeter and the block reminiscent of Billy Owens and Glenn "Big Dog '' Robinson. Carmelo didn't disappoint in his first season in Denver; he averaged 21.0 PPG and 6.1 RPG while leading the Denver Nuggets to the playoffs.
During their first-round matchup with the Timberwolves, Carmelo became the first rookie to lead his team in scoring since David Robinson during the 89-90 season. By Carmelo's fourth season, he was averaging 28.9 PPG, but there were significant issues at play. After years of cellar-dwelling, the Nuggets had made four straight playoff appearances, but they were unable to get out of the first round.
The following season Denver was eliminated in the first round by the Lakers, this is where I believe the narrative began to shift on Carmelo. The Nuggets would finally shed the "underachiever" label in the following season, escaping the first round but ultimately losing in the conference finals to Kobe Bryant led Lakers squad. When fans reminisce over Melo's stint in Denver, they are quick to talk about their first-round struggles. Still, they fail to acknowledge that those teams were poorly constructed and often decimated by injuries.
The Nuggets had a PG carousel with Andre Miller, Allen Iverson, and Chauncey Billups taking turns behind the wheel. It's become common knowledge now that HC George Karl had a frayed relationship with his players. Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, and Nene Hilario were all susceptible to injury. JR Smith was still very young and unable to make regular contributions as Melo's complementary scorer. Carmelo and company did enough to make the playoffs but lacked the pieces to be genuine contenders in a vicious Western Conference.
Anthony would eventually force his way to New York to play with Amare Stoudemire in a trade that weakened the Knicks roster and draft resources. Soon after, injuries would begin to take a toll on Amare, forcing Carmelo to fend for himself in the Big Apple. Carmelo spent seven seasons in New York while he lived up to his superstar status but also had very public spats with teammates, coaches, and management leaving fans questioning his maturity and leadership ability.
Anthony has since moved on to play for OKC, Houston, and most recently, Portland. Carmelo is now 36 years old, with seemingly 1-2 years of quality basketball left in his body. His star may not have had the same success as fellow draft classmates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but to call him an underachiever would be a disservice.
NBA legend Tracy McGrady has taken his fair share of criticism over the years for his lack of playoff success, but it hasn't dissuaded fans from celebrating his talent. Allen Iverson may not have been the NBA's most efficient scorer, but it hasn't deterred aficionados from regaling fans with stories about his toughness and scoring prowess.
When we look back and remember Carmelo Anthony's legacy let's be sure to recognize him for his otherworldly scoring, versatile ball skills, and propensity for hitting clutch shots. Carmelo was a rare breed of scorer with a complicated legacy, but it doesn't give fans license to diminish his greatness.