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New York City has always had an interesting relationship with it’s professional athletes. The city’s fans have a tough time accepting a new star. Most of the time, the fans are guarded, happy that “Hypothetical Superstar X” has been acquired by the team, but suspicious of whether that star can handle the limelight and make their team successful. This happens in every sport. Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees was celebrated when he was brought in in 2004, but was ridiculed for most of his tenure until he played a major role in the Yankees winning the 2008 World Series. This hesitation to love a player also comes to light during any NBA or NFL Draft, both of which are held in New York City. Every time a New York City team selects a player, you can bank on the fans booing the selection because that player has to prove himself.
Up until Easter Sunday, Carmelo Anthony also still had yet to prove himself.
Hit the jump for the rest of Ian’s piece…
On Easter Sunday, there was more than one resurrection being celebrated. The New York Knicks battled the Chicago Bulls, the holiday’s marquee matchup, on basketball’s marquee floor in Madison Square Garden. The game was hyped as the return of Derrick Rose; last year’s MVP who has been sidelined for a good amount of the season with a groin injury. The game lived up to the hype, but at the end, it was Carmelo Anthony who was being celebrated for his own type of comeback.
He was supposed to be the savior. Last year, after a circus of a season for Anthony and the Denver Nuggets, he was traded to the Knicks to be the final piece to the puzzle. The Knicks had gotten former Phoenix Suns star Amar’e Stoudemire to sign with them in the off-season, and used that signing to show Anthony that the Knicks were on the way up. Anthony arrived at the All-Star break due to a multi-team deal that sent most of New York’s other assets to Denver, and kept the team steady and flirting with a .500 record (the team was 28-26 before Anthony’s arrival), ultimately finishing with a record of 42-40, and a trip to the Playoffs. Even with this new-found success (It was the Knicks’ first playoff run since 2004), fans were not satisfied with the season after the Knicks got swept in the first round of the Playoffs by the Boston Celtics. And, even though Anthony raised his level of play once he became a Knick, his style of play was blamed by media and fans as a reason for their quick exit.
This season hasn’t helped. This is, statistically speaking, his worst year since 2009. He is scoring less, shooting the ball at relatively the same rate, but missing far more often. He has been injured and missed a total of 11 games this year. He has also been a victim of his team’s success. While Anthony was injured, the craze known as “Linsanity” took the world by storm, as the upstart Jeremy Lin took the Knicks on a 7 game winning streak, leading some to speculate that the Knicks were better off without Anthony to stop the ball and play “hero ball” where the team would live and die by his play.
All of this changed Sunday, however, as Carmelo took center stage in what has been tabbed as possibly the best game of the season so far. He dropped in 43 points, connecting on 16-31 shots, while also racking up seven rebounds and three assists. The game went down to the wire as Carmelo scored 9 of the team’s last 11 points in the fourth quarter as the Knicks came back from a 9 point deficit with 5 minutes left in the game, including an incredible pull up three pointer in transition to tie the game at 91. He then turned quiet in the first four minutes of OT, committing fouls, turnovers, and not scoring well. But, he then owned the last minute (and the fans at The Garden, for that matter) like the season depended on it. It started when he hit a driving layup, looking like the ‘Melo of old, getting to the rack whenever he damn well pleased. Then, after a J.R. Smith steal, Anthony got the ball an missed a layup, initiating a scrum for the ball that ended with Tyson Chandler tipping the ball out to a teammate. Carmelo then received the ball, dribbled to the right, pulled-up from beyond the arc, and proceeded to hit a dagger of a three pointer over the outstretched arms of the Bulls’ Luol Deng. Then, the Knicks sealed the game on defense where they forced Derrick Rose to throw up a hard runner that missed at the buzzer.
For that moment, the Garden was his. Just like Reggie, Michael, and all of the other greats that have owned the fans at MSG before him, Anthony now has his own signature win. For the rest of the season, the chips will fall where they may. The Knicks may not win a title, they may not have a great run in the playoffs; but this win brings hope for the future when the team is fully healthy, and has had a season to get used to each other. A season where the city has had a chance to get used to the team, including it’s fearless leader, the man affectionately known as ‘Melo. Yes, with this victory at the Garden, Anthony has finally endeared himself to the New York faithful, a task that has definitely not come easy to him.