Appreciate the Magnificence of Carmelo Anthony

Appreciate the Magnificence of Carmelo Anthony

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Melo did it again. If you missed his 45-point, 10-rebound, 4-assist masterpiece in the Knicks 109-106 loss to the Houston Rockets last night, and if you don’t take the time to adjust the LeBron and Kevin Durant blinders that the national media force-feeds us, you’ll never know that one of the game’s historically great and inexorable offensive forces is in our midst.

I laugh at the uneducated folks who mislead others into believing that this cat is rather ordinary.  Melo is a force of nature with more weapons than The P Stones, Vice Lords, Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, Bloods and Crips combined!

In other words, he’s bringing heavy artillery.

Please savor the entire arsenal – the elbow jumper off the screen, the baseline pull-up off the dribble, the catch-and-shoot, the McHale moves in the post, the quick put-back off the offensive glass, the bully spin move into the paint, finishing the break, the pull-up 3 off the dribble, the work on the boards, the subtle nuance of his footwork in the paint, in the mid-range and in the open floor.

We exist in a current sports climate of amnesia, and too often forget and minimize the great work that has preceded what we have today. As the Knicks have struggled out of the gate with a 3-5 record, people are acting as if the team is a failure and the season is lost.

My advice to the doubters: please just be patient and watch Melo work. It takes the stamina of a Kenyan marathon runner to deal with the inevitable Knicks heartbreak to come in the playoffs. But until then  we should marvel at this gift from the hoops gods, who just happens to flourish while in the unfortunate shadows of his more celebrated contemporaries.

Remember that the Knicks won 54 games last year and finished first in the Atlantic Division for the first time since the days when Bishop was trying to build his Juice up.

And there was no greater factor in that organizational resurrection than Melo, who last year had the best season of his ten-year career. I think it’s worth taking a glance back at who this guy is and where he came from.

Carmelo Kiyan Anthony, though most often associated with his hometown of West Baltimore, Maryland, was introduced to the game on the asphalt of New York City. His father, Carmelo Iriate, was a playground baller who, before moving to the Big Apple, grew up on the west coast of Puerto Rico. Melo was born in 1984 and, for the first eight years of his life, lived in Brooklyn’s Red Hook Projects.

His father was felled by liver cancer and transitioned when Melo was still a toddler, but he passed on an enduring legacy.

“My father was a ballplayer and I still have clips of articles about him and some leagues he played in,” Melo told me during a conversation I had with him a few years ago for a magazine piece that I was crafting. “He was a 6-foot-5 scorer. It runs in our family.”

Before Mary Anthony moved her four children to Baltimore, Melo was an ardent St. John’s hoops fan. He also counted Brooklyn native Bernard King, the Knicks’ small forward extraordinaire and scoring machine, among his boyhood idols.

Upon moving to Baltimore, he frequented the outdoor courts in his new neighborhood on the west side of town, which  was known as “The Pharmacy” due to the thriving narcotics trade.

The Myrtle Avenue that Carmelo settled into was far removed from West B’more’s glory days, where Jazz and entertainment giants like Satchmo, aka Louis Armstrong, or the raw, guttural genius of cats like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins packed the Royal Theater and the city’s other Chitlin Circuit landmarks.

The sparkling marble steps of once elegant homes, as well as the fabric of the family unit, were in sad disrepair during Melo’s transition into adolescence.

The drug culture, and its associated violence, had turned the once-proud manufacturing and blue collar enclave into one of the nation’s murder capitals. In the shadows of Ravens Stadium and Camden Yards, parts of West Baltimore resemble war torn, third world disasters.

The neighborhood where Carmelo grew up was ground zero for H.B.O’s phenomenal series, The Wire.

But even in the worst environments, bad guys do good things. “Drug dealers funded our programs,” Melo told ESPN The Magazine’s Tom Farrey. “Drug dealers bought our uniforms. They just wanted to see you do good.”

Mary Anthony would not allow the negative forces to swallow her son up without a fight. She insisted that his grades be maintained, especially when he showed glimpses of tantalizing athletic potential during adolescence.

“I credit a lot of who I am today as a player to my days playing on the streets in Baltimore,” Carmelo said in 2006 when he was chosen as the cover athlete for the NBA Street Homecourt video game. “My homecourt in Baltimore will always be a part of who I am, because that’s where I gained the skill and desire that has made me successful in basketball.”

He signed with Syracuse as a skinny, 6-foot-7 junior at Towson Catholic High School.

“He was basically a regional recruit,” Syracuse assistant coach Troy Weaver told SI in 2002. “But then in the summer he just blew up nationally.”

Melo started dominating at various camps and tournaments and threw a national coming out party with a string of scintillating performances at an AAU event in Las Vegas.

In the fall, he transferred to prep hoops powerhouse Oak Hill Academy and, taking his profile outside of Baltimore, became a top-five national recruit. Sequestered in the rural Virginia mountains, he added 20 pounds of muscle and took his game to another level.

Melo led Oak Hill to a 32-1 record – including a victory over the Akron, Ohio, St. Vincent-St. Mary squad led by LeBron James –  and averaged 22 points and seven rebounds per game. He thought about going pro, but his mom wanted him to get a taste of college life. The housekeeper at the University of Baltimore was unfazed about the potential millions her son was poised to earn.

“I didn’t want him to go to the NBA,” Mary Anthony told SI in 2002. “When you get all that fame and fortune, honey, you become  a man, right then and there. I wanted my son to have a chance to be 18 years old.”

His first basket for the Orangemen was a dunk against Memphis, and Melo proceeded to score 27 points or better in his first three college games. He led the ‘Cuse with 22 points and 10 rebounds per game during the regular season.

Then came Melo’s March Madness, where he sewed one of the most dominating freshman performances ever seen into the rich tapestry of the NCAA Tournament.

melo cuse

In the East Regional Final against Oklahoma, he had a double-double with 20 points and 10 boards in the 63-47 victory. Against T.J. Ford and the University of Texas in the ‘03 Final Four (which was the first time casual fans ever heard the name of Marquette’s super duper star, Dwayne Wade), Melo set a record for the most points ever scored by a freshman in a national Semi-Final. He exploded on the grand stage with 33 points, making 12 of 19 shots, and collected 14 rebounds in the 95-84 victory.

In the 2003 National Championship, Melo – with some assistance from Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick, Billy Edelin and Kueth Duany – delivered coach Jim Boeheim’s first NCAA title with an astounding 20 point, 10 rebound, 6 assist performance in Syracuse’s 81-78 victory over Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison’s Kansas Jayhawks crew.

The Sporting News gushed that “…Anthony played the college game better than  any freshman in NCAA basketball. Ever.”

Boeheim told SI that Melo was “The best player I’ve ever coached.”

He garnered First Team All-American honors, was the Big East Rookie of the Year and the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.

For those few weeks in March of 2003, Carmelo Anthony solidified himself as the greatest one-year player in college basketball history, the cat who gave every player behind him the one-and-done wet dream.  For those who watched him as a college freshman, especially during the NCAA Tournament, we’ll never forget how he put the legacy of his coach and an entire program on his young shoulders, delivering a title and stretch of performances that will live on forever.

The Knicks might not have the pieces this year. Indy, Chicago and Miami are a level above. You can’t smoothly navigate around that with an Audi S4.  But even if he has to stand alone, that’s not burdensome to accept because Melo is worth the price of admission every night.

The brilliant scholar Michael Eric Dyson, in Robert Glasper and Common’s transformative piece above, could easily be talking about and including Melo when he says, “Thank God we’ve still got musicians and  thinkers whose obsession with excellence , and whose hunger for greatness, remind us that we should all be unsatisfied with mimicking the popular rather than mining the fertile veins of creativity that has been placed deep inside each of us.”

As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I never thought I’d see another Knick that was offensively comparable to the legendary Bernard King. But it might be sacrilege to some, and it even sounds funny to me coming out of my own mouth, but I think that Melo is actually better.

So, through the struggles and pain of having to come up short in the age of LeBron, Knicks fans better truly appreciate and cherish the magnificence of Melo, because this type of talent does not come along very often.