Note: This is the second installation of a two-part series defending Carmelo Anthony. For more on why the New York Knicks’ problems don’t include Anthony, why his Denver departure was blown out of proportion and why he isn’t the ball hog everyone says he is, read Part 1. Melo hater discretion is advised.
“Carmelo Anthony has never won a title”
This is the biggest criticism of Melo and it requires an entire piece of its own to refute. This ugly monster reared its head again in the last few days because of rumors about Carmelo Anthony leaving the New York Knicks and George Karl‘s ESPN interview, during which he said Melo’s game leads to individual success but not championships. Karl’s point seems hard to refute; after all, Carmelo Anthony is still ringless after 10 seasons. But boy, if that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is.
It’s time for this kind of criticism of Melo to stop. Not because I think the New York Knicks are about to go on a 10-game win streak and immediately turn their season around. Not because they’re going to win the NBA Finals this year. And not even because we have reason to believe that Melo can eventually bring a title back to the Big Apple. The reason people need to lay off Melo is because of the unfair standard we hold athletes to these days.
Let’s face it: waiting for LeBron James to win his first title and finally earn the throne of basketball’s next chosen one did something to us. It changed the way we examine NBA stars. We waited so long for LeBron to deliver in the postseason and finally add a championship ring to his legacy that in the process, we developed this idea that a player can’t be elite without winning an NBA title.
That notion is ridiculous and unfair. Think of how many NBA legends and Hall of Famers retired without ever winning a ring. John Stockton never won a ring, but if you asked almost any NBA fan what they remember about him, it isn’t that he was “overrated” or that he “choked under pressure”; it was his unbelievable passing ability and his status as one of the NBA’s all-time great point guards. The same goes with Karl Malone, who won an MVP award during his time in the league. Or Charles Barkley, who also won an MVP award and was one of the finest rebounders in NBA history.
I know what you’re thinking: “Those guys probably would’ve won rings if they hadn’t run into a certain No. 23 from Chicago.” And you’re right. But what about other ringless legends like Chris Mullin, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber, Alex English, Pete Maravich, George Gervin, Dominique Wilkins, Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson? Are their legacies tarnished because they never played the role of “basketball savior” and brought their city a title? Even New York legends Bernard King and Patrick Ewing never delivered a Larry O’Brien Trophy. Does the city of New York love them any less?
We didn’t even mention the worst example of an NBA legend who never won an NBA title. Elgin Baylor appeared in eight NBA Finals and never won it all. When you think of Elgin Baylor, do you label him as a choke artist? Is his place among the NBA’s all-time greats questioned because he never won a ring? If we held him to the unfair standards people hold Carmelo Anthony to now, Baylor’s legacy would be remembered much differently.
But it takes a team to win a championship, as Allen Iverson found out in 2001. No one, I repeat, no one, has won a championship in NBA history without help. Not Michael Jordan, not Kobe Bryant, not LeBron James, not Bill Russell, not anybody. How many “great” teams has Carmelo Anthony played on? I count one: the 2009 Denver Nuggets, who grabbed the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and lost to a superior Los Angeles Lakers team in the Western Conference Finals. Anyone who watched that series should remember how Melo traded blows with the great Kobe Bryant. Kobe outplayed Melo for the most part, but that’s because Kobe played absolutely out of his mind in that postseason en route to a championship. Nobody in Denver has forgotten the way Melo absolutely muscled Kobe in the paint to give the Nuggets all he had.
And then you take a look at the NBA superstars playing today who don’t have rings. Chris Paul. Dwight Howard. Steve Nash. Even younger stars like Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Love, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant (the consensus second-best player in the league) will ultimately be judged by how many rings they win. But if Steph Curry never wins a ring, are all of his late-game heroics that make him a regular “League Pass Alert” meaningless? Is Kevin Love putting up 27 and 14 in a season pointless if he never brings home the hardware? Were two finishes at the top of the East less significant because Derrick Rose never delivered a championship?
Absolutely not. It makes sense that fans want to see rings. As a fan, the ultimate goal for your team is winning an NBA championship. We want our stars to be remembered among the NBA’s all-time greatest players. We want our team to have that storybook season that gains recognition among the greatest teams to ever grace a basketball court. We want to watch history. But the truth is, this constant need for identifying the historical significance of a player or team makes us forget why we love the NBA in the first place. For example, nights like Melo’s 43 points in an overtime win against the Chicago Bulls in Madison Square Garden.
The reason we appreciate our NBA superstars isn’t because of the certainty of a title. We appreciate them because of the night-in, night-out effort they give. We appreciate the feeling we get when we walk away from a game and all we can say is, “Wow.” We appreciate the thrilling game-winners, the clutch plays, the swagger, the big playoff moments and the hope they give a city that they could possibly go all the way. Just because they fail to deliver on that hope doesn’t mean those feelings of possibility or the thrills along the way are any less impactful. Otherwise, we wouldn’t watch the NBA until the playoffs.
The biggest disappointment for me, one of the last members of the Carmelo Anthony Support Group, is not that Melo has failed to deliver in New York, but that New York has failed to deliver the pieces to put around him for a championship contender. J.R. Smith has turned into a head case, Tyson Chandler isn’t healthy and the ghosts of Raymond Felton and Amar’e Stoudemire aren’t going to get it done, even with Andrea Bargnani defying the odds and actually contributing significant minutes. I don’t think anyone but Carmelo Anthony knows where he’s going in free agency this summer. But unless drastic changes are coming in New York, he’ll had to leave to have a chance of ever winning that ring. And all the while, this irrational Melo hate will continue unless he does.