New York is the mecca of basketball, and Madison Square Garden is the stage every player dreams of playing on. And that's a fact.
Playing for the Knicks and for the city of New York is a luxury. Don't pretend it's not. Even when the franchise was at their worst, they were relevant. They were castigated and ridiculed to no end, but they still mattered.
Playing in the Big Apple can be an abomination, though. The expectations are high, the media coverage unrelenting and the fans greedy, impatient and abusive. I should know. I'm one of them. And any fellow New Yorker who would argue the contrary is lying. And they just might. We're New Yorkers. Perennial contrarians. It's what we do.
'Melo came to realize this for himself all too soon. He became the subject of intense scrutiny, depicted as an agent of chaos. He was the villain on a team he was supposed to save.
This all happened in less than a season. In New York time, it was actually like nine years. That's how impatient and uptight we are. If Anthony couldn't deliver on his pledge, we wanted no part of him.
Not that 'Melo actually made such a pact. His intent is obviously to win a championship, but he never officially promised one or more. Not like LeBron did with the Miami Heat, when he essentially donated eight championship rings in advance of his first regular-season game.
But Anthony didn't need a similar platform to provide such assurances. He didn't have to say anything at all. That he wanted to come New York said it all. It always does.
Winning in New York isn't a bonus—it's a stipulation. By agreeing to sport orange and blue, you're consenting to our terms. You're entering a covenant. One that dictates you will win at all costs.
Is it fair? Of course not. The Knicks haven't won a championship in 40 years. To expect a team that hasn't made it past the first round of the playoffs in nearly 15 years to just up and win titles is beyond reaching. And then unceremoniously picking them apart after they don't is bestial. But we don't care. This is New York, and the city is a beast. Said standards are just the nature of that beast.
Fast forward through Mike D'Antoni's firing and the Knicks finishing the 2011-12 season on an 18-6 tear, and everything had changed. 'Melo had an April to remember (29.8 points on 49.5-percent shooting) and faith was restored in both him and in the organization itself.
Then came the first-round bout with the Heat. New York was sent home in five games, and all was not well. Anthony wasn't portrayed as the miscreant he was in February, but we the fans weren't pleased.
The Knicks went out and revamped their roster. Sorry, I mean "aged" their roster. They fielded the oldest team in NBA history, much to our dismay. They couldn't win by lining the pockets of the elderly.
Except they did.
They began the 2012-13 season 18-5 and sat atop the Eastern Conference, and 'Melo was an MVP candidate. King of the concrete jungle.
But it didn't last. New York went 20-21 over the next 41 games, complete with a disastrous West Coast trip that saw Anthony risk further injury and, let's face it, embarrass himself against the Denver Nuggets.
After having his knee drained, 'Melo was a new player and the Knicks were a new team. They won 13 in a row and secured second place in the Eastern Conference, and Anthony once again had an April to remember (36.9 points on 53.8-percent shooting). And that's where we, Anthony and the Knicks are now.
At present, the Knicks appear to be legitimate title contenders, because they are. Still far from healthy, they've managed to rattle off 50-plus victories and look like a complete team. There is something to strive for in the postseason.
Yet there has always been something to strive for in the playoffs—a championship. No matter what state the team is in, and regardless of their troubled past, it's a title or bust. And those in New York will be fraught with rage if it's the latter, even if they don't expect the Knicks to win.
Their target of interest? Anthony.
He's the one who has only made it out of the first round once in nine tries. He's the one who has led this team to just one playoff victory in two postseason berths. He's the one fans look toward to lead, and spew hot vitriol at if the Knicks lose. That's just the New York way.
Or is it?
The expectations 'Melo is facing are no different from what that of Bernard King, Patrick Ewing and even Allan Houston faced. They're no different from what Amar'e Stoudemire faced when he signed here. And they're (probably) no different from what the 1970 and 1973 championship teams faced.
However, the consequences he will be subjected to, should he fail, are.
Do we look back on Ewing as a failure? No. The absence of a ring on his finger is noticeable, but his jersey still hangs in the rafters. And do we chastise Walt Clyde Frazier for only winning twice in his 10 years with the team? Most definitely not. That would be insane even for us.
'Melo's different. Comparing him to all-time greats seems premature, and in some ways it is. But he is held to the same standards they were. And he'll be crucified by us and the national scene in general if he fails to meet them.
Which isn't entirely our fault. Anthony was chided for his lack of postseason accolades well before he showed up on our doorstep. Starring on a bigger stage has only strengthened an already strong stigma.
Is that fair? Again, no. Deep down, we know it's not. Our thirst for a third championship banner trumps that of common sense and compassion. It trounces everything.
This is what 'Melo will be facing when he faces the Boston Celtics. And it's what he'll be facing should he lead the Knicks to the second round, Conference Finals or even NBA Finals.
Unless he gets New York a ring, his legacy will be forever tarnished, more so than any superstar to have put on a Knicks uniform. In part because he's Carmelo Anthony, our supposed savior. Our supposed knight in blue-and-orange armor.
But mostly because he plays in New York. He plays for New York. After four decades worth of what should have been humbling experiences, we still accept nothing less than perfection.
Especially from 'Melo. Because of who he is, how he got here and the baggage he brought with him. His journey to New York was unique. The reputation he had built for himself upon arriving was just as singular. And for that, the unbridled and yes, irrational standard is unprecedented.
The city of New York still loves him, but it isn't above turning on him, either. It has before, and for as long as he remains ringless, it will again. And with each playoff loss the Knicks incur, each season they go without a championship and each "failure" the franchise sees under 'Melo's watch, the prospect of writing Anthony off for good becomes even more real.
By now, he knows this. He gets it.
So when he embarks on this season's playoff run, and however many more thereafter, he understands his legacy as a member of the Knicks is tied directly to the attainment or continued absence of the championship that has eluded him his entire career. The same one that has evaded the Knicks for 40. And the same one that will forever define him as player.
Whether that's fair or not.
*Unless otherwise noted, all stats from this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference.
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