Carmelo Is Happy With the Consolation Prize

In a week, Carmelo Anthony will have a third gold medal wrapped around his neck. Immediately afterwards, Anthony will vault to the top of the NBA star-Olympic gold medal food chain. Better than Michael Jordan who has two Olympic gold medals. Better than Kobe Bryant who has two Olympic gold medals. Better than LeBron James who has two Olympic gold medals. Better than Steph Curry who has zero Olympic gold medals. In a week, Carmelo Anthony can establish himself in the international game as a consistent and dominant winner. Of what he has accomplished, Anthony is proud.

“Most athletes don’t have an opportunity to say they have won a gold medal, better yet three gold medals. I would be very happy walking away from the game knowing that I’ve given the game everything I have and knowing I played on a high level at every level…I can look back on it when my career is over and say I had a great career.”

What Anthony calls a great career- 3 gold medals- and what Knicks loyalists call a great career are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Knicks fans have it in this order: Olympic gold medal, League MVP, Eastern Conference Finals, NBA Finals, Finals MVP. That is a great career. That is dominating your league and your position during your era. That is vanquishing your rivals and opponents because you were better. That is wanting to be the best and working for it and suffering for it. Frankly, it sounded more like Anthony is resigned to his NBA fate. It’s one thing to dominate lesser talented players for two weeks every four years. But the ability to play 100 games and be the last player standing, something that has eluded Anthony for his entire career, is a Herculean task that brings a multiplicity of rewards.

Anthony’s words taken in context are a reminder to Phil Jackson and the Knicks brass that Carmelo is not who he pretends to be. He is not all in on a NBA title, and worse, he is not that piece you can move in a trade. He is not seduced by winning a title at the back end of his career so moving him gives the Knicks no leverage; Carmelo will never waive his no-trade clause. To put it in real terms: mediocrity is fine with Carmelo. So is losing. Because he has his gold medals.

That Carmelo wants to stay in New York is a good thing- he isn’t Kevin Durant. But Anthony isn’t going to change any time soon. He isn’t going to get any better at the parts of the game he ignores. He isn’t going to suddenly morph into a leader extraordinaire like his best friends, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade. Like Allan Houston, the Knicks are stuck with Carmelo Anthony. It is a for better or worse marriage with divorce non-negotiable.

What Carmelo loves about the Olympics is that it is the one place he can be beloved. His game is not dissected and torn apart. He is not compared to his peers and he is not judged by what he cannot do in the postseason and he is not ridiculed by the analytics crowd.

In the Olympics, Carmelo is allowed to be Carmelo. All they are asking him to do is score. All they are asking him to do is make big shots. He fulfills every Olympic obligation knowing there is no one on the other side of the ball who has the talent or skill to stop him. So he can play his game the way he wants to play his game and no one suffers.

The Olympics isn’t the NBA. With Carmelo, the Knicks have suffered. With Carmelo, the Nuggets suffered.

Scoring talent will put Carmelo in the All-Star game. He will have his speech at the Hall of Fame. But being one dimensional isn’t going to get him (and the Knicks)  to the Eastern Conference Finals. Perhaps, Anthony has finally come to terms with his flaws and knows he is not going to get any better, and without some miracle free agent signing, the Knicks will continue middle of the pack as they wait for Kristaps Porzingis to develop.

But I wonder what Carmelo sees when the NBA Finals take place year after year, and the champions hold up the trophy, teary eyed. Does he see himself in the future, in that same scene? Or does Carmelo Anthony shut the television off and open his Olympic ring drawer, his consolation prize.


photo via llananba