It's been just over two years. Two years since New York's once-prodigal son, Carmelo Anthony dribbled a basketball in Madison Square Garden. Although only two years in seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc., it feels like a lifetime ago. At that time, Anthony was playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George en route to his last full NBA season. Carmelo actually played 78 games in the 2017-18 season, it was the most games he's played in the regular season since he turned the legal drinking age.
We all remember Carmelo's debut to New York basketball as a fresh faced 18-year old leading the Syracuse Orange to the NCAA Championship. It was the first notable basketball championship anyone from the state of New York could claim since the 1973 Knickerbockers had Phil Jackson on the roster as a player.
Then, Anthony joined the NBA and most of the tri-state area saw the Brooklyn-born phenom lead the Nuggets to playoffs season after season. In fact, Carmelo's first season in the NBA was the last time the Knicks made the playoffs until he joined the team in 2011. All seemed right when Carmelo came back to New York and for a brief second, it was. Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Amar'e Stoudemire led the Knicks to victory over LeBron James and the Miami Heat in a primetime matchup.
The only problem was, that was a regular season game. If only someone had told New York that was the potential signature win for the decade, it might have helped.
The joy from dethroning the King in South Beach never truly returned. Of course, there was "Linsanity", a couple playoff runs, and then the rise and fall of Kristaps Porzingis, but it was that single moment where Carmelo gave the Knicks hope. The problem was, it never returned. After going 1-8 in the playoffs in Carmelo's first two seasons as a Knick, the team was bounced in the second round by the Indiana Pacers and haven't returned to the playoffs since.
Even though Carmelo never got out of the second round, he made it fun along the way. Despite employing great scorers like Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Bernard King, Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, and Latrell Sprewell, it is Carmelo Anthony who dons the franchise-record for most points in a game.
Carmelo and the Knicks ultimately parted ways in 2017 and like watching an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend endure difficult times, Carmelo had trouble finding his footing.
The formal transactions sound worse without the "business of basketball" context, however, after being traded by the Knicks to the Thunder, Carmelo was traded again less than a year later to Atlanta. He was then immediately waived, picked up by Houston but then benched after 10 games. Next in line, he was officially "traded" to Chicago before being waived a final time.
Anthony was essentially being paid not to play basketball.
But after nearly a full year off, finally, he found an opportunity in Portland and has made the most of the situation.
Fellow New Yorker, LL Cool J, coined the phrase "Don't call it a comeback" in his hit single, "Mama Said Knock You Out" when silencing critics who thought the hip-hop icon's stardom had passed and now the question is do we call Carmelo's return to The Mecca of Basketball a "comeback"?
And how does New York react when Melo comes back to New York? Do you boo? Do you cheer? Do you shake your head at every heavily contested 2-pointer?
As the decade closes, the Knicks have been less than stellar and the only thing consistent has been the lack of consistency. Carmelo was supposed to be the savior that guided the city to the old glory days. Now he's a reminder of the last time the Knicks were relevant beyond April.
Returns can be a solid narrative tool that we've seen on the big screen. Whether it was the Return of the Jedi or Batman returning to duel with the Penguin and Catwoman, Carmelo has an audience. Anthony's exit was far more amicable than the aforementioned Porzingis. As we roll in a new year and a new decade, we remember an old friend.
Cheers Carmelo! You'll always have the heart of New York City.