The perpetual disdain general managers and owners seemingly possess for one Carmelo Anthony is soaked in the historical relationship between cultural appropriation and the inability to see past the physical gifts and output of black men in service of white overseers. Anthony is now firmly entrenched in the “he’s not worth the trouble” stage of a career filled with misunderstandings. His omittance from a current NBA roster is fascinating. It’s a case study on the relationship between the men who created this billion-dollar industry with their skill on a court – and their personalities off of it – and the men who cut their enormous checks.
Carmelo Anthony is a 24 points per game scorer for his career, a former scoring champ, a 10-time All-Star and the most decorated Olympian USA basketball has ever produced. But, apparently, this gets met with a “womp, womp” when his people talk to the higher-ups of the NBA. Anthony has a reputation among players that has the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard pulling for their comrade to land somewhere this season. Somehow he continues to find himself languishing in the unknown. His career-ending with an abruptness usually relegated to role players. After he was released from the Houston Rockets, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that Anthony had more than likely played his last NBA game.
So far, Windhorst has been right.
Superstars are supposed to be able to go out on their own terms. We’re including going out due to injury in this consideration simply to make it a much cleaner outlook on the situation. Whether shot in the leg while running up the court (Shaquille O’Neal) or dropping an inefficient, yet absurdly entertaining 60-point finale (Kobe Bryant), NBA superstars have left the league they once dominated in a litany of ways. Melo (he’ll be ok with us calling him that), on the other hand, is landing on a shortlist of players who were told by the league that their services were no longer needed, despite their ability to still play the game at a high level.
The 34-year-old Melo is not going to be dropping 25 a night as he did in his prime. But to say that he isn’t one of the 400 best players on the planet is like saying the Andre 3000 album that may or may not be finished will not immediately skyrocket to the best album of the year conversation – and this is clearly without hearing a word or beat of the album yet.
Dr. Dre is said to be producing it. So, there’s that.
Digression is upon us.
The shortlist Melo is trying so desperately to prevent seeing his name on is captained by one of his former teammates in Denver and a fellow misunderstood former superstar, Allen Iverson. Iverson used similar verbiage as Carmelo in that his pride and ego did not allow him to be relegated to bench duty, no matter how much his skills had deteriorated.
“I’d rather retire before I do this again,” Iverson said in an April 1, 2019 interview. “I can’t be effective playing this way. I’m not used to it. It’s tough for me both mentally and physically. If I’m able to go out there, I should be able to get it done and I can’t right now. It’s my fault. I have to be able to overcome the adversity and do what I have to do. I just have to find a way to get it done.”
Iverson, ironically, as a spark plug gunner off the bench would have been a level of dominance not many bench guards have ever produced. He would have schooled second-unit guards like they were an army of Tyronn Lue ankles. Imagine the level of explosiveness that Iverson could have produced off the bench. As long as he had attacked the opportunity with the same fervor that had made him the pound-for-pound greatest scorer in NBA history.
But, that pride can get the best of us, especially those who are the best of us. Iverson could not let go of the relentless nature that made him the superstar he was. His career ended without the send-off Iverson deserved. No other person had an impact on the culture of the late 90s, 2000s basketball quite like him. His peers revered him, his fans loved him and he had earned the respect of even those who misunderstood him.
But, you know, pride and stuff.
When a reporter asked Melo about the possibility of coming off the bench during a press conference prior to his lone season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Melo responded with a now-legendary, “Who me?” After some laughter followed, he continued saying, “I don’t know where that came from… Hey [former teammate Paul George], they said I gotta come off the bench!” The laughter continued, then he said, “Naw, I’m sorry, go ahead.”
What hasn’t moved ahead is Melo’s playing career. The laughter has ceased. The league’s owners and general managers have made it clear that he is no longer worth the trouble. But two teams and a lot of reflecting since those infamous comments, Melo is finally coming around to understanding that maybe his situation isn’t all that funny. Maybe he is suffering the same fate as the once revered, abruptly discarded Iverson. But unlike Iverson, Melo seems to have figured it out in time to possibly change things.
Melo is different – now. He has openly professed his newfound ability to recognize that he isn’t quite the bucket-getting elbow jumper stalwart he once was. Anthony can’t guard his shadow and his assault on the record books from the elbow-extended is no longer the locale in which superstars dwell. Nevertheless, he is good enough to be on an NBA roster. He can still help an NBA roster. He belongs on an NBA roster. I mean, have you seen what this brotha does to his peers in summer pickup basketball? He is still relatively unguardable. And don’t let the NBA allow players to wear hoodies on the court. Melo might turn into a well-seasoned superhero if that happens. We can only dream. But the reality is way more emotional than that.
“I love the game too much to get away from it,” said Anthony on ESPN’s First Take in August. “I’ve never even thought about a farewell tour. I’ve thought about this being my last year, but that was at the time. I was really emotionally vulnerable at that point in time. Now I feel like I still could play, I know I still could play, my peers know I still could play.”
Not too many coaches want to be put in a situation where they are DNPing or giving less than 10 minutes to a future first-ballot Hall of Famer who still destroys his younger peers in pickup basketball during the summer. Media members will pepper said coach with questions on why Carmelo isn’t playing. Again, he is in the “not worth the trouble” portion of his career. It looks more like 14 points off the bench isn’t enough for some team to pull the trigger. They would rather have a Jared Dudley type who will eventually transition into television despite a pedestrian stat profile.
Yet, that’s just the thing. A Dudley is perfect in his role as a bench role model. He was made for it. And you need guys like that. But Melo still has the ability to kill your 7th man one-on-one in practice. Asking him to sit behind that same guy who can’t guard him is going against the very fabric of what makes these guys tick. Playground rules always apply: The best guys get picked. Carmelo Anthony is still one of the best guys. He just isn’t worth the trouble.