The resume is so long that it’s hard to believe anybody would consider Carmelo Anthony anything but a winner, but he apparently has to prove himself all over again.
This was the kid who put Towson Catholic on the map before declining enrollment took it off the map entirely in 2009.
He’s the same guy who led Syracuse to its first NCAA basketball title and was named the outstanding player in that tournament in his only season of college basketball. Sure, lots of freshmen do that.
Throw in a neckful of Olympic gold medals for Team USA and a string of 10 straight playoff appearances at the start of his NBA career and it’s hard to believe he would leave the New York Knicks as something of a polarizing figure.
No one denies that he gave that franchise a huge lift when he was traded to the Knicks by the Denver Nuggets seven years ago, and no one can deny that he was an NBA All-Star every year he played home games at Madison Square Garden.
Still, it apparently is what you’ve done lately that counts, and when the Knicks went into a death spiral over the past four seasons, Anthony was often identified as part of the problem in spite of his lofty statistics and obvious Hall of Fame credentials. It didn’t help that his final season in New York was spent in a him-or-me feud with Knicks president Phil Jackson that ended with both of them heading out of town.
Anthony was either rumored or reported to be on his way out of New York in each of those four losing seasons, but one of those rumors finally came true when he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in September.
“You want it to work out so bad, for so many years, and it doesn’t work out — it’s not fun anymore,” Anthony said in an October interview with The New York Times.
Back in the playoff hunt, he passed through Washington on Tuesday night to face the Wizards, who were the closest thing to a hometown team when he was emerging as a teenage phenom in Baltimore.
Now, maybe it can be fun again. It certainly has been lately, though the Thunder suffered a 102-96 loss at Capital One Arena.
“Totally different feeling … mentally … physically … emotionally,’’ Anthony said late Tuesday night after scoring 19 points on 7-for-21 from the field. “To have an opportunity to be a part of a winning team and getting that feeling back. The confidence that grows from that is unprecedented. I think everybody knows that.
“Our mindset and our goals is not just to make the playoffs. We have an opportunity to do something special here. That’s also some good confidence right there.”
The Thunder had been treading water until the middle of December, fighting to get back to .500 after winning just four games the previous month. At the same time, Anthony was trying to adjust to different role, no longer the main attraction in his 15th NBA season. It took awhile, but the planets now seem to be in alignment.
He’s scoring less, but the Thunder are winning more, arriving at Capital One Arena riding an eight-game winning streak and threatening to displace the first-place Minnesota Timberwolves in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference.
"Once you accept something, regardless of what it is, I think you become comfortable with it," Anthony told reporters after a big night against the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this month. "You start putting your all into it, you start working on that role and on that acceptance, and it becomes fun. I think right now, after accepting that role, I think early in December, the game is starting to become fun again for me, fun for us as a team.”
He’s also enjoying the more laid-back environment of Oklahoma City, which is quite a contrast to the noise, controversy and competitive frustration he left behind in New York.
“It’s just that I can focus on basketball now,’’ Anthony said Tuesday. “I can focus on being happy again and enjoying playing basketball. There’s pressure on our team as a whole, but it’s a different type of pressure. A different type of lifestyle. So I can just focus on playing basketball, getting better and going from there.”
Anthony is still climbing the ladder to his ultimate legacy. He became the 21st player in NBA history to reach 25,000 points in Saturday night’s victory over the Detroit Pistons. Only two other active players — LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki — are in that club.
There is no question he’ll go down in history as one of the NBA’s great scorers and one of the sport’s most accomplished players, regardless of the level of competition. The only goal he hasn’t achieved is an NBA title, which is still a very tall order, but no longer an impossible dream.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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