Before the game in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, Carmelo Anthony glanced at the rafters. He wondered if his number 7 would be up there someday. The Knicks will ultimately make that decision, he said. But he hoped to advance the process.
"You say you have to introduce yourself in life," he said, "so I introduced myself."
Anthony was back in the garden for the first time in 25 months, this time as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. He plays again and scores again after reviving his career at the age of 35. Against the Knicks, he dusted off his familiar things: the midfield jumpers, the turnarounds with low posts, the skyscraping 3 hands.
In fact, Anthony was great. He finished the race with 26 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 11 out of 17 from the field. Although a game doesn't define much of everything, it seemed to symbolize Anthony's intricate legacy: so much production and potential, so little to show.
Portland had to give up their fifth loss in a row after the Knicks (117: 93) won their third game in a row under Mike Miller, their interim coach. After that, Anthony expressed mixed feelings. The Trail Blazers have big problems that the Knicks have uncovered. But he also sounded nostalgic and grateful.
Again: it was complicated.
"Love was definitely felt tonight," he said. "I have just returned, I think this feeling is difficult to explain."
During the players' performance, the audience greeted Anthony with a warm ovation – and even cheered when he touched the ball at the start of the first quarter. It was an offensive that would have been familiar to anyone who remembered Anthony from his Knicks days: isolated from his defender near the 3-point line. Iso Melo: Back there! Sure enough, when Anthony considered his options, occasional murmurs grew to a roar. When Anthony finally went over to a teammate, the crowd groaned.
The team officials have not put together a video tribute for Anthony. Like when he returned with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017, but the atmosphere was no less charged. Even when Anthony went to the bank at the end of the fourth quarter, a song appeared: "We want Melo!"
"I think being in town makes you a certain type of person," said Anthony. "And in order for me to accept and want to accept this and to accept this challenge, I think I got the love that I have tonight. And I will continue to get that from this city in the future."
The energy couldn't have been more different when Kristaps Porzingis returned to the garden with the Dallas Mavericks in November. Porzingis was constantly booed during this game. The general opinion among fans, fair or not, was that Porzingis had withdrawn from New York last season, that he had fled from the dysfunction instead of struggling and trying to be part of the solution.
But unlike Porzingis, Anthony stopped, even if things were going badly and it was clear that he had become part of the problem. In the dystopian world of Knicks basketball, it's an honor to just hang out. If fans get stuck with this team, maybe the players should be too.
Of course, if the Knicks were in a better place instead of languishing on the bottom of the leaderboard (again), Anthony's occasional return would not be such a spectacle. But he was the face of the Knicks the last time the franchise was decent, a reminder of better days – or at least more interesting days.
In his over six years with the Knicks, Anthony was a consistent all-star. He once led the N.B.A. in the classification and drove the team on three trips to the playoffs. (Do you remember the playoffs? No? No matter.) In any case, Anthony was charismatic and more than competent most of the time and a real presence in a city that celebrates people who have presence,
But only once during his tenure did the Knicks advance after the first round of playoffs. And in his last four seasons it was 117-211, setting various records for senselessness. It was the time of year insisted on playing in an all-star game even though he needed knee surgery. In the summer, he went on a lengthy free agency tour before signing more than $ 120 million. The quarrels with Phil Jackson, the quarrels with callers and the struggles with injuries.
When the Knicks tried to rebuild before the 2017/18 season, they traded Anthony for thunder. But when the Houston Rockets released him less than a month ago last season, it seemed like his career might be over. Nobody else picked him up. He watched the rest of the season go without him.
"I don't think people understand how difficult it was, how difficult it was," said Anthony.
It is thanks to him that he stayed in shape during his break. The blazers signed him in November. In 20 games, Anthony scored an average of 16.2 points and 6.2 rebounds, while shooting a respectable 40.3 percent from the 3-point range. Before the defeat on Wednesday, coach Terry praised Anthony's "professionalism".
"We probably relied on him more than we thought when we got him," said Stotts. "He plays big minutes for us. I think the experience he brings, the time he had in the league, his leadership – he has had a very positive impact on the changing room, so we couldn't be happier that we got him could. "
But the blazers, which are between 14 and 21 years old, are starting to fray at the seams. When asked about his team's problems after Wednesday's game, Anthony could just as easily have moved to 2013 when the Knicks were involved in one of their defeats. He used the same script.
"We just have to go through it," he said. "That's all I have to say. We have to go through it. We have to find out. Nobody will find out for us. We have to find out for ourselves. And in times like these, you have to go on if you go through it."
Anthony would know. On the relapse night in the garden, he spoke from experience.