The Carmelo Season: Olympic Basketball

Carmelo Anthony’s Olympic history, like his NBA career, is mixed.  He was part of the infamous 2004 team which lost to the eventual Gold Medal winners Argentina.  The U.S. was awarded the bronze medal in an embarrassing moment for USA Basketball.  Carmelo then went on to be a part of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams, which won gold in resounding fashion under Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The criticism of that 2004 team is similar to the criticism Anthony has received for most of his career.  That team was deemed selfish – the players didn’t pass and didn’t play team defense.  In the semifinals, they couldn’t keep up with the chemistry and selfless play of the Argentinian team, led by Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola.  Similarly, these are all things Anthony has heard at one time or another throughout his career.

What cannot be criticized is his play in the last two Olympics.  He was an integral player on both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams.

USA Basketball is where Carmelo had his greatest game.  In the 2012 Olympics against Nigeria, Anthony set the Olympic team scoring record for a single game with 37 points in just 14 minutes of play, while going 10-of-12 from three.

It was such a spectacular performance that first time Olympic player Kevin Love said, “It was unbelievable.  I was at a loss for words watching.” (ESPN.com, 2012).

This performance, along with the other great games Anthony has had while wearing the team USA uniform, disproves his critics wrong, if only against weaker competition.  He benefits from a super team every four years. The U.S. enters every tournament as the favorites, by far.  They still, however, need certain things Carmelo brings to the table as a scorer and rebounder.

Carmelo considers the Olympic team a great honor.

He said last March, “Since ’04 up until now, being a major part of the growth of international basketball, USA basketball, being there when we were at the lowest of the low when it comes to basketball internationally and then experiencing two gold medals, the way that we did it, I sit back and I dwell on that. I realize this is a special moment.” (Newsday, 2016)

Of course, his doubters will follow him to Rio this summer.  Critics will say he can only win when surrounded by Kevin Durant, but while Durant may have the only NBA MVP Award on the team, Anthony is the only one with two gold medals and three Olympic appearances on his resume.

Carmelo enters this offseason with the New York Knicks, going through an identity crisis.  They have an undeniable star of the future in Kristaps Porzingis and a player in Anthony whose timeline to win is now.  Anthony is still a star player and a top 5 scorer at the loaded small forward position, but he is 32 years old.

The front office has responded to this predicament by building a roster that looks more ready for the 2012 season than the current one, while also keeping long term flexibility.

Despite it looking like he won’t have any professional success going forward, at least Carmelo will always have his Olympics resume and memories. With LeBron’s decision to drop out of the Olympics this summer, Carmelo holds the distinction of being the first American basketball player to go to three Olympics.

While his friends point to playoff success, Carmelo can only wait every four years to prove himself.

He may finish this year’s Olympics as the best USA Olympic Basketball player ever.

 “I’d take him anywhere, he’s been committed since 2004 — he and LeBron. Carmelo is a great guy, not just a great player.”…[James], Melo, Chris, they are USA Basketball.” (Coach K., New York Post, 2015)

With Chris Paul and LeBron taking the summer off, it is up to Anthony to cement his legacy and for once, stand apart from the crowd.

photo via llananba