There is no debate when it comes to judging the Hall of Fame credentials of Carmelo Anthony. He’ll be in Springfield when his eligibility arrives with his trademark smirk and maybe even a headband diagonally positioned over his gleaming eyes.
Even if his tour in Oklahoma City — and wherever else his career takes him — doesn’t lead to an NBA title, Melo’s resume is already worthy of Hall of Fame status. He is among the top-25 all-time scorers in league history, a 12-time All-Star selection, an NBA scoring title holder and an NCAA champion.
But a former pro once told me that all athletes need a home after they retire. They need that one team where they remain affiliated, regardless of where they started or where they finished. For Melo, New York will be that home.
For better or for worse, he will always be known as a Knick.
Oh, we’ll grow to realize we didn’t appreciate him while he was here and he’ll, too, come to recognize that maybe he didn’t appreciate us nearly as much. It was a tumultuous six-plus seasons together that would be best described as mercurial.
The Melo Era started with such great anticipation of what could be after a thrilling nationally-televised win over LeBron, Wade and the Heatles in 2011. It ended, essentially, with a dunk attempt on Roy Hibbert in Indiana that robbed us of the chance to see him take on Miami in the Eastern Conference Final in 2013.
I swear to this day if Hibbert’s hand gives way on that play, the Knicks would have won that series in seven. Could they have beaten the Heat in the conference finals? Let’s just say this: They took 3 out of 4 against them during the regular season. They matched up well and weren’t intimidated.
But those damn Pacers and that damn Hibbert …
The four years after that Game 6 loss seemed to morph into one long, frustrating season attempting to recreate the magic of 2011-12 and 2012-13, when Melo and Kevin Durant battled for scoring titles, Mike Woodson had the Knicks playing defense and we called the bench with characters like JR Smith and Steve “championship belt” Novak nicknames like Mobb Deep.
That was as good as it got.
Two moments stand out to me during the seasons that followed: Melo’s signature moment as a Knick, scoring a franchise-record 62 points against Charlotte in January of a lost season in 2013-14, and when he sprained his ankle stepping on the foot of a referee on Jan 12, 2016, when the Knicks were 20-20 on the season (they would finish 32-50).
There were a few futile attempts to build around Melo, but Kristaps Porzingis’ arrival brought a new focus on the future and a rebuild that didn’t fit with a veteran scorer who dominated the ball.
The trade was made days before training camp began after Melo acknowledged it was time to move on. Seven years ago, he came to the Knicks to form a Big Three with Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups that should have been a bigger threat to the Celtics and Heat in the East. This time he joins the Thunder to form a Big Three with Russell Westbrook and Paul George that should be a threat to the Warriors, Rockets and the Spurs in the West.
And sometime over the next few years, the Naismith Hall of Fame will come calling. There’s no doubt about his worthiness there.
But a question that may come up — in fact some have asked already — involves Melo’s status in Knicks history: Should No. 7 one day be raised to the rafters at The Garden?
He finished his Knicks career 7th on the franchise’s all-time scoring list (10,186) and is top-10 in 13 major career categories, such as points, scoring average (24.7), three-pointers made, offensive and defensive rebounding and, yes, even PER. He is among the franchise leaders in 8 season categories, including scoring average (28.7 ppg in 2012-13), FGAs, 3PM, FT% and PER.
He scored 40-plus points in a game 17 times, with a 50-point performance and owns the single-game scoring record of 62 points. He hit the 20-point mark in a franchise-record 31 straight games in the 2012-13 season and posted a franchise-record three straight 40-point games that season, as well. He also represented the Knicks in six straight All-Star appearances.
But he didn’t win a championship.
And of the nine men whose numbers hang from The Garden rafters, only two did not win a championship. However, both Dick McGuire and Patrick Ewing reached multiple NBA Finals.
Melo’s teams only once reached the second round.
You might argue if Melo’s No. 7 belongs up there, then so does Richie Guerin’s No. 9 and Bernard King’s No. 30. Guerin played 8 seasons in New York and was a 50-point scorer. King’s career was much shorter because of injury, but his legacy suggests he played much longer than 3-plus seasons.
Melo’s legacy with the Knicks, for now, is viewed as an overall disappointment, because when he arrived in February 2011, it felt like the Knicks finally had a legit superstar to build a championship contender.
The problem was, the team was never able to build that team around him. Melo loved New York and never wanted to leave. His pursuit of a championship now continues elsewhere, but ask him and he’ll tell you, without hesitation, if he does win it somewhere else, it won’t mean the same.