The glimpse into the immortality of Carmelo Anthony’s Knicks stardom was subtle, a brief cameo on the Madison Square Garden jumbotron May 2 amid a stretch when the organization —
his organization — stretched its season further than in any other year since he donned that jersey.
It was Game 2 of the Knicks’ second-round playoff series against the Heat, and the 38-year-old, with 16-year-old son Kiyan seated to his right, was underneath his name — perhaps not all that different from the television chyrons, newspaper graphics and photo captions that accompanied his six-plus seasons as the preeminent basketball star in the city of basketball’s heartbeat.
Anthony, who after 19 NBA seasons, first waved toward the screen, but then he stood. He lifted both hands into the air. He clasped them together before lifting them again as a standing ovation commenced.
The reunion with the former star was accompanied by a different tone of respect, an appreciation that wouldn’t have been present had Anthony worn a No. 7 white home jersey with orange lettering and blue trim and the Knicks lost that night. He didn’t have any on-court responsibilities.
Recalling he had recorded just the three playoff appearances and one series victory, perhaps the most glaring void on his Broadway résumé? An afterthought.
Because on that day, and until someone else unseats him, Anthony was
the guy. And for the early part of the 21st century, he earned that label with the franchise.
It’s easy to overlook how the Anthony era fell short of its lofty expectations, though. He became the , and even the Anthony deal seemed unlikely at times with the Nets holding leverage.
The Knicks .
It was a massive haul to land a marquee star, and after the dust settled and Anthony was traded to the Thunder in 2017, five head coaches — either full-time or with the interim tag — had worked with him.
The roster, depleted due to the deal that brought him to NYC, was a shell of the type contending teams require.
But that doesn’t diminish the legacy Anthony left on the city and the franchise. The Knicks stars from the 1990s are adored — with Patrick Ewing remembered through a jersey retirement — because their seasons generally ended in the playoffs, but Anthony’s chapter contained a tinge of individuality.
His name kept popping up in the statistical record as the Knicks made their most recent playoff run.
Jalen Brunson was the
first Knick with 15 points in the first half of a playoff game since … Anthony in 2013. Brunson became the fourth Knick to record three 30-point playoff games in the same series, last accomplished by … Anthony in 2012 and 2013. And Brunson was the first with a 30-point playoff game at MSG since … yes, Anthony in 2013.
Anthony made the enduring imprint on a franchise that, in most scenarios, would lead to — at the very least — .
Syracuse, Anthony’s college, retired his jersey in 2013 for the one-season contributions that ended with a national championship in 2003. Maybe the Nuggets could retire his jersey, but as Anthony
jokingly pointed out in 2019, Nikola Jokic now wears No. 15. That could get complicated.
So Anthony’s latest decision starts the next phase of his career. He’s a full-time jersey retirement salesman, something he has tried before with the Knicks on separate occasions in and . He’ll try to become the first player since Ewing — and just the third who didn’t win an NBA title with the franchise (along with Dick McGuire) — to have his jersey permanently reside in the Garden’s rafters.
“I did glance up at the rafters a little bit today during the national anthem,” Anthony said in 2020, when the Trail Blazers played the Knicks in just his second game back at MSG. “They say in life you gotta envision, so I was envisioning, see that thing hanging up there.”
He has the numbers from a tenure with the team to back up any claims, and the rest of his résumé fulfills whatever requirements he needs to meet — except for the championship.
That’s certainly a glaring gap. The Melo Era was a complicated one, and at the end of it, the franchise was just as far away from a title as it was before the 2011 blockbuster trade. He didn’t help the franchise return to its success of the 1970s or even the 1990s.
But the image of Anthony in his Knicks uniform, in the No. 7 that no player has donned since, remains. The adjectives to describe his Broadway tenure endure, too, as evident by the MSG jumbotron that May evening.
It’s almost as if Anthony’s number has been unofficially retired already. If nothing else, that’ll be the lasting image.
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Flipping the Yankees-Orioles script
After a wild road trip filled with plenty of storylines — from a 6-1 record to Aaron Judge’s and to and — the Yankees return to The Bronx to start a series with the Orioles on Tuesday.
This isn’t the type of Orioles team that the Yankees have become accustomed to facing in the first few months of the season, though.
The Orioles sit three games behind the Rays for the AL East lead at 31-16, a record that would lead any other division in baseball.
Nine of the 15 series between the Yankees and the Orioles since Baltimore’s last playoff berth in 2016 that have occurred before June 1 — not counting their season-opening set in 2019 — have begun with Baltimore holding a losing record (and three of the six with above-.500 Orioles teams were the second series of the season).
Over the past two years, the Orioles have entered six of their seven early-season series against the Yankees below .500.
The Orioles’ surge following the All-Star break last year has certainly carried over into the 2023 season, and the team’s foundation of youth — headlined by Adley Rutschman, Ryan Mountcastle and Austin Hays, among others — has carried their early-season surge offensively.
It’ll be a bit different when Kyle Bradish starts against Gerrit Cole to start the three-game series. This time, the Orioles hold the advantage on paper.
The Mets’ ultimate benchmark
The Mets will get 13 more chances this season to demonstrate an ability to compete with — and beat — the Dodgers and Braves, the National League’s top two teams who started a series Monday night with
a fitting Freddie Freeman-led Dodgers win.
But after a week that ended with five consecutive victories, the Mets to be considered among the league’s strongest teams.
It was a label that appeared likely when they assembled a high payroll and a roster packed with stars such as Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor, Brandon Nimmo and others.
That changed when the Mets struggled to start the season — losing or splitting series with the Nationals, Reds, Rockies, Tigers and Nationals again — and finally topped .500 again over the weekend, and the rest of the kids.
It’ll take time before the Mets return to the NL’s elite, but that’s not to say it won’t happen this season.
A series against the Dodgers in July, as well as three series against the Braves in June and August, will serve as benchmarks.
But , and it wasn’t just a plethora of one-run victories that don’t lead to anything sustainable, the Mets are at least making strides.
At the core
In the middle of Michael Malone’s Game 3 press conference, he briefly exited the present — reflecting on a victory that brought his team within one win of the NBA Finals — and started sharing a story from the past.
But, really, it’s an anecdote that captured why the Nuggets have been one of the league’s top teams this season and .
It started with Jamal Murray after he tore his ACL during the 2020-21 season. Malone recalled sitting on the bus with Murray, who had tears in his eyes.
“I’m damaged goods. Are you guys gonna trade me now?” , according to Malone.
“I hugged him, I said, ‘Hell no! You’re ours. We love you, we’re gonna help you get back, and you’re gonna be a better player for it,’” Malone said in his press conference Saturday. “I think what he’s doing in these playoffs is just a reminder of a guy that we drafted seven years ago that has continued to find ways to improve and really show out on the biggest stage in the world.”
Murray — who averaged 32.5 points during the sweep of the Lakers — has served as a key part of the Nuggets core, and of their top seven scorers this season, five (counting the injured Murray) were with Denver last season. Four played for the Nuggets in 2020, when they made their last run to the conference finals. Murray, Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. were with the franchise in 2019, too.
It’s also a trend reflected on the Heat — one win from the NBA Finals entering Game 4 on Tuesday night (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) — and the Celtics. All nine of Miami’s leading scorers played for Erik Spoelstra last season. Seven were there in 2020. Five in 2019.
And the Celtics’ nucleus of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart dates back to 2019.
It’s a stark difference from the Lakers, who’ve had the same duo of James — who delivered following Monday night’s elimination — and Anthony Davis since 2019, but have cycled in a new supporting cast each season. Only three of their eight double-digit scorers from the regular season — not counting Russell Westbrook, who was bought out in February — played in Los Angeles during the 2021-22 season.
If anything, it’s a testament to teams — especially the Nuggets and Heat — sticking with head coaches (Malone since 2015-16, Spoelstra since 2008-09) and roster cores through seasons without playoffs berths or with early exits. The Bucks and Suns moved on from their coaches due to the latter, and that has the potential to set a new precedent when it comes to teams, superstars, expectations and the overlap of all three.
For the Knicks, especially because they lost to the Heat in the second round, the success of the Heat and Nuggets could serve as a blueprint for the upcoming offseason.
They’re , given their surplus of draft picks, and could be tempted to trade productive players for potential upgrades or to clear cap space.
Running it back with the same team doesn’t always work out, and sometimes, it can lead to stale and stagnant seasons. Imploding the current depth chart and starting over sometimes does produce flashy results. But this season, a handful of teams have created success with their tested core — and it’s likely to be on full display when the NBA Finals begin.