Editor’s note: Carmelo Anthony announced his retirement from the National Basketball Association on Monday.
With the NBA regular season ending on Easter Sunday, it was nice to see the Miami Heat honor its 20-year veteran Udonis Haslem with a heartfelt and emotional pre-game ceremony.
But the spectacle also conjured up my lost, forlorn hope that the greatest NBA player to ever rise out of Baltimore’s rugged streets, Carmelo Anthony, would one day receive a similar tribute and outpouring of affection before he ultimately submits his retirement papers to the NBA league office.
But wistfully, for those of us who watched his rise from Towson Catholic, to Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia — where his signature prep performance was a 34-point, 11-rebound gem in a 72-66 win over LeBron James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary’s squad from Akron, Ohio — to the Syracuse University wunderkind who delivered Jim Boeheim’s lone national championship while being named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2003 Final Four, to a certain first ballot future Hall of Famer, it’s evident at this point that it’s not going to happen.
“I first met Carmelo at the adidas ABCD Camp in New Jersey during the summer of 2001 and he was only there for one day because he had to go enroll at Oak Hill the next day,” said Mike DeCourcy, the Sporting News Columnist, Fox Sports and Big Ten Network college hoops analyst and a member of the United States Basketball Writers Hall of Fame who has covered the sport for over 35 years. “He played against and outshined Lenny Cooke, who was then considered the No.1 prep player in the country. So I did a brief one-on-one interview with him and wrote a story about him that day.”
“I was also at Madison Square Garden covering his first college game against Memphis and wrote afterwards that he could be a First Team All-Big East selection at every position — point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center,” DeCourcy continued. “That was how versatile he showed himself to be in his collegiate debut.”
It’s a shame that Anthony won’t get to experience the love-fest that Miami gave Haslem.
Yes, Haslem, a role player with an immense locker room presence, was a part of three Heat teams that captured NBA titles, of which Carmelo has none. He spent his entire career with one franchise, while Melo split time in Denver, New York, Oklahoma City, Portland and Los Angeles (he last played for the Lakers during the 2021-22 season and was out of the NBA this season).
But neither of those factors should diminish from the fact that Anthony was a transcendent talent, perhaps the greatest freshman in modern college basketball history alongside the University of Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant are the only men’s basketball players to win three Olympic gold medals, and Melo is a force of nature on the offensive end of the court whose exploits are worthy of celebrating.
“Guys like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, they didn’t get an opportunity to play in the Final Four as first-year players because freshmen weren’t eligible then,” DeCourcy said. “But I don’t think you’ll find another player, with the exception of perhaps Anthony Davis, that dominated and won a national championship in the way that Carmelo did. What I saw that first time before his senior year at the ABCD camp, I think that’s who he’s been throughout his whole career.”
“Carmelo made his mark as one of the best NBA players to ever come out of Baltimore,” said Herman “Tree” Harried, the current head coach at Lake Clifton and former Dunbar High School star who played on Syracuse University’s 1987 national championship runner-up team. “He played at an extremely high level for 19 years and is a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer. To put it simply, he was a human bucket, one of the greatest and most prolific scorers in the history of the game. He could wear you out at every level, from attacking off the dribble to running the break, from his mastery of the mid-range to bullying you in the post to banging the three. His footwork was superb and the entirety of his offensive arsenal was a joy to behold.”
Carmelo Anthony’s career may have ended in less-than-glorious fashion after what’s believed to have been his final season with the Lakers, but to look at the totality of his body of work is an aggregate study of true greatness.
“Carmelo is definitely one of the most dominant offensive players ever,” said Malcolm Delaney, the former Virginia Tech star, NBA player and overseas pro who followed in Anthony’s footsteps at the Mt. Royal Recreation Center and later at Towson Catholic High School. “I played my AAU ball with Team Melo when he first started the program and we have a connection that’s grown over the years. He helped me as a kid growing up around here in terms of developing a vision of what I wanted to accomplish in both basketball and in life.”
The modern sports fan has a “What Have You Done For Me Lately” mentality, but that does a disservice to a player like Melo who, like former NBA greats Elgin Baylor, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller or Allen Iverson never had a chance to hoist a championship trophy but was nevertheless one of the preeminent talents to ever step onto the hardwood.
“He’s a model and an inspiration for the young men and women coming up in Baltimore with dreams of playing the game at the highest level,” said Harried. “He followed in the footsteps of my great high school teammates Muggsy Bogues, Reggie Williams and the late Reggie Lewis in letting people know that you can rise out of this city, regardless of your circumstances, and not only succeed, but exist among the greats as one of the best to ever do it.”
As the 2023 NBA postseason tips off this week, I thought it only appropriate to look back at some of Melo’s most inspiring work, in true appreciation of one of Baltimore’s favorite basketball sons.
“Winning that national championship in such dominant fashion as a freshman at Syracuse, along with capturing those three gold medals for Team USA cemented his legacy at an early age,” Delaney said. “He’ll always be known as one of the toughest players from Baltimore and one of the best to ever play the game.”
“As young kids, we idolized Sam Cassell,” Delaney continued. “But as we got older, Melo was the guy that our generation related to more. He was leading the path for us in terms of what needed to be done to make it to the highest level. His scoring ability will always be appreciated. But even more than that was him being such a positive role model to people who were a few years behind him coming up in the city.”
Melo may not get his flowers in the same way that others have when their playing days are done, but as the city that fed and nourished his hoop dreams, it’s only right that we show him the love that he so appropriately deserves.
The best of Melo
During his freshman season at Syracuse, Anthony garnered first team All-American honors, was the Big East Rookie of the Year and was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. His 20-point, 10-rebound performance in the title game 81-78 win over Kansas was superb. But it was his 33-point, 14-rebound gem against T.J. Ford’s Texas squad in the Final Four that left the most lasting impression among longtime college basketball aficionados.
Carmelo is one of the most decorated players for Team USA in Olympic history, having won three gold medals. Kevin Durant is the only other player with that total, and the only player to score more than Melo in Olympic competition. In the 2012 London Games, he scored 37 points in only 14 minutes of action against Nigeria.
As a 19-year-old Rookie with the Denver Nuggets in 2004, Young Melo served notice that his offensive pyrotechnics and scoring arsenal would be a force to be reckoned for years to come when he converted 66% of his shot attempts and poured in 41 points in a 124-119 win against Ray Allen and the Seattle SuperSonics.
Anthony has scored 30 or more points in the playoffs 22 times, but perhaps his most impressive was in his first postseason series as a member of the New York Knicks in April of 2011 against the Boston Celtics when he scorched for 42 points while grabbing 17 rebounds and dishing out six assists against Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Madison Square Garden, often referred to as basketball’s mecca, has seen some of the game’s most remarkable performances. It’s where Steph Curry once scored 54, where Michael Jordan came out of his first retirement to drop his famous double-nickel, where Bernard King had separate 55 and 60-point explosions, where Kobe Bryant and James Harden each spontaneously combusted for 61.
But the man who’s scored the most points in a single NBA game in that revered building is none other than Carmelo Anthony, who scored 62 points while adding 13 rebounds against the Bobcats in January of 2014.