Interesting discussions take place on sports radio everyday but today one in particular caught me. I listened to an hour of sports radio and just about every call taken was regarding the true problem with the New York Knicks and every caller’s response was the same: Carmelo Anthony.
Every negative description you can imagine was thrown out to describe him from “overrated” to a “poison.” It’s a particularly dangerous career situation for Carmelo because this was his dream scenario. Playing for the New York Knicks, being born in Brooklyn, and leading them to a championship.
How quickly things have changed.
To end the season Anthony went on a scoring binge that was the talk of the league leading up to the playoffs. He dropped 43 against the Bulls in a win on April 8th in New York. He dialed up 42 in a close loss to Miami (their eventual first-round opponent) on 4/15 that had some speculating if the Knicks could take down the mighty Heat round one. Against Boston he scored 35 in a win and scored 39 against the Hawks in Atlanta in a winning effort. New York went 9-4, including winning three straight, to close out the regular season and secure the final seed in the Eastern Conference.
So where did it all go wrong for Carmelo? My theory: 2002-2003.
In 2002-2003 he was the talk of the college basketball world. Syracuse University struck gold with Carmelo Anthony as he took over the month of March and led the Orangemen to their first ever National Championship. Jim Boheim stated he was the “greatest player in college basketball.” His initial intention was to perfect his craft a couple of seasons at Syracuse, but after winning the NCAA tournament and hearing the praise that followed he left early to pursue NBA glory.
Don’t get me wrong, winning the NCAA tournament isn’t a bad thing, the praise that comes after a performance such as his is what was most damaging to his progression.
He was drafted by the Denver Nuggets with the third overall pick in 2003. His stint with the Nuggets saw Carmelo put up the numbers we expected. It wasn’t surprising to see him average 26 points and seven rebounds a game. That wasn’t the surprising part. The “surprising” part was that he thought he could channel his college success in postseason play and be okay. He thought it could be a one man show.
How’s that working out?
It’s not rocket science. An athlete dominates, then he dominates at a level where the competition isn’t as good as he is and wins a championship, we dub him “the man,” and then it goes to his head.
Carmelo made the playoffs all seven years in Denver and got out of the first round once. He’s now been in New York the equivalent of a full season and last night won his first playoff game in eight tries. Carmelo Anthony is a fine basketball player and as physically gifted as anyone playing today. Behind Kevin Durant he’s the best pure scorer in the league. Legacies, however, are built on championships, and no matter how much you disagree Carmelo Anthony doesn’t know how to switch into that gear true champions have.
A direct line can be drawn to his one year in college and him leaving because everyone told him “he had nothing else to learn.” It’s the reason Lebron James struggles in big moments, the reason Kobe Bryant took so long to figure it out on his own, the same for Kevin Garnett, Amare Stoudemire, and on and on.
You can’t teach adversity or grit. You can’t undo years of coddling and praise and tell someone who is fully invested in that state of mind that “they need to learn how to do “x” to be truly great” because in their mind they already are.
Despite their win last night the Knicks will lose another first round series when they face the Heat game five down in Miami. Afterwards, Carmelo needs to take a long look at himself and ask how he wants to be defined. Does he truly want to be a champion again? if so he needs to learn to share, pick his spots and play better without the ball in his hands.
Or he could keep doing what he is now, demanding the ball go through him. My experience tells me that doesn’t end with too many championships.