The return of Carmelo Anthony

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Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony cheers on his son at USBA Nationals (Photo: Alex Fischbein/Basketball Society)

On November 14, 2019, headlines were buzzing around all NBA circles — “The Portland Trail Blazers have signed Carmelo Anthony”. After appearing in just 10 games with the Houston Rockets in the previous season, Anthony was set to make his return to the court. In what became more than a calendar year off, he was finally getting the chance to prove himself.

The Fall

The snowball began in Anthony’s final season with the Knicks (2016-17). Well chronicled public spats with former team president Phil Jackson muddied the public perception of Anthony. While Knick fans still supported him, the masses began to wonder if he could still be the number one option on a championship team.

Fast forward to his inevitable exit from New York, and usher in his welcome to Oklahoma City for the 2017-18 regular season. The narrative immediately changed from ‘Big Three’ to him becoming a role player off the bench.

The stage was set. Either Anthony would accept a bench role or be a diva superstar following the footsteps of former teammate and NBA icon Allen Iverson.  An expected dip in production resulted in Anthony averaging a career-low in points (16.2), and field goal attempts (15) to that point.

Lacking chemistry and cohesion, that version of the Thunder saw it’s three stars simply take turns on offense. 82 games later and a swift first-round exit at the hands of the young Utah Jazz, OKC was ready to move on.

Banana boat boys, anyone? Post-OKC, Anthony took the opportunity to team up with longtime friend Chris Paul and scoring machine James Harden. Although many didn’t see the fit on paper, Anthony was optimistic that it could work.

Just as he thought he got a new lease on life, it was taken away in a Thanos-like snap of a finger. Anthony lasted just 10 games in coach D’Antoni’s system before the Rockets ended their relationship.

The Journey

Carmelo Anthony hit the free-agent market just as fast as he signed the contract with the Rockets. What appeared to be the chance to fight for a title turned into a fight for his career. Month after month passed by with no calls being placed to Anthony or his agent. His outlook was bleak.

Waiting for an opportunity was no excuse to pause the grind. Seen in many workouts and pick-up games set up by basketball trainer Chris Brickley, Anthony stayed ready. His passion and love for the game was still there.

Anthony stayed quiet and still for more than a year. He made no public comments or guest appearances until he broke his silence and joined ESPN’s First Take crew in August 2019. You saw a mentally worn down individual who took jabs from almost everyone in the media. Most called for him to retire, while many saw no opportunity for return. Not only was he blamed for the Rockets’ underperforming start to their season, but also accused of being unwilling to adjust his game to support his team.

He knew he still had game. He knew he could still contribute to a winning team. His peers were in full support of his reinstatement. But was public perception winning? What was wrong with adding a 16-year veteran?

The Rise

Welcome back, Carmelo Anthony! Social media was in a frenzy on the night Melo’s signing with the Blazers was announced. I for one, very clearly couldn’t contain myself:

After months of wondering if Melo’s good friend LeBron James would vouch for him joining the Lakers, he got perhaps an even better fit in Portland. With clear leadership in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Melo’s role was established on the outset. He would immediately be a starter, filling the void of the injured Zach Collins.

Anthony averaged a respectable 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game while shooting 42.6 percent from the field, and 37.1 percent from three-point range. He gave us everything from vintage moves, ‘Player of the Week’ performances and game-winners. Most importantly, he proved he still belonged.

Parallel to Anthony’s plight much is unknown in today’s world regarding the coronavirus global pandemic. We saw the potential hardship on the horizon, but never thought it would hit close to home. Realizing what’s missing in our lives, gives us a new perspective and a new sense of purpose. Like Melo, it’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel when the darkness around you looms thick. But there is hope. He believed and we too shall believe.

Overcoming adversity has become a cliche in sports vernacular, but rings true daily. Although the journey may be daunting, the victory is even sweeter.

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