By John Schmeelk
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If Carmelo Anthony fulfills the full length of his contract here in New York, his era will be nine years long.
The franchise is four seasons in, with only five to go. Despite the fact that the Knicks have only been out of the first round of the playoffs once during the last four years, and the Knicks are onto their third coach and general manager, it has been — for the most part — a positive experience for Anthony.
With a decade of being led by players like Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry before his arrival, Anthony was seen as a savior, and understandably so. For the most part, he was in the honeymoon portion of his Knicks career. But this is his franchise now, and it will be interesting to see how Anthony handles the darker side of the New York fan base that will start to reveal itself.
New Yorkers put a ridiculous amount of pressure on their stars to win, and they have very little patience waiting for them to do so. The whispers about Anthony could already be heard last year, whether they were said on talk radio or muttered quietly in the concourses of Madison Square Garden. There were complaints about the ball stopping too much on offense, with Anthony taking too many contested mid-range jump shots out of stagnant isolation sets. Hopes are that Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher and the triangle solve that problem.
There were complaints about Anthony staring or talking to officials too much instead of getting back on defense one too many times. Many stars have this issues, but fans saw Anthony do it a few too many times.
This is something Anthony has to fix on his own. There was a lack of help defense and focus on that end of the floor on too many possessions. Less specifically, fans are frustrated that the Knicks have only won one playoff series with him. Mike D’Antoni and Mike Woodson have been blamed, but now with Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher here, the laser sight is going to be on Anthony. He is now the common thread for a decade of basketball and the weight of the franchise is on his shoulders.
These complaints and criticisms, many times, aren’t fair or accurate, but that doesn’t matter. For the most part, they haven’t been verbalized en masse at Madison Square Garden. Anthony hasn’t had to handle that adversity as an individual quite yet, but it is going to happen now. Even though Anthony did take less than the max, that will soon be forgotten, and the common refrain of “he makes $25 million and 40 percent of the cap” will be the common complaint from fans. It doesn’t matter that LeBron James is better, or has a better supporting cast.
Knicks fans will expect Anthony to beat him.
Patrick Ewing, who accomplished far more than Anthony has during his career (two Finals appearances and two Eastern Conference Finals appearances), faced plenty of unwarranted fan hostility towards the end of his Knicks tenure. Now Ewing is universally loved by Knicks fans, but that was not the case the couple of years before he was traded. There were audible groans in the Garden when the team went to him in the post in his later years. The common refrain on talk radio was that the team would be better off with an uptempo style led by Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston and Larry Johnson. Some fans were actually happy and thought it helped the team when Ewing got hurt during their Finals run in 1999.
The complaint was that Ewing wasn’t “great” and was only “very good”. The fact that he couldn’t figure out a way to beat Michael Jordan was used as a reason to label him as someone who wasn’t good enough to be the best player on a championship team.
The fact that his second-best player for his prime years was someone who was taken off of a checkout counter at a supermarket (John Starks) was never fairly considered. Ewing was the best player on a team that could never get over the top, and he was outplayed by Hakeem Olajuwon in his lone NBA Finals appearance when he wasn’t injured. Misguided fans turned Ewing into the reason the Knicks didn’t win a title in the 90s, not the lone reason they were even competing for one.
It was ridiculous. It was unfair. It was nonsense.
But it didn’t matter. It was there, and Ewing had to go through it and overcome it. New York loves its stars, but it also places a huge burden on their shoulders. It can weigh players down if they can’t handle it well. It will be interesting to see how Anthony does. He faced similar issues in Denver when he couldn’t get out of the first round for so long, but it will be amplified in New York.
It’s the dark side of New York as a sports town. Stars get the bright lights, the fame and the fortune, but they also get the immense pressure and unfair scrutiny of trying to win here. Nothing is sweeter than a New York championship, but nothing is tougher than New York failure. The sharks are always circling. The natives are always restless, and as Melo embarks on the second half of his Knicks career, he is going to learn that quickly. How he handles it will help define his Knicks career.
– I’ll get into it more in my next column, but Jackson had some very interesting things to say during his second-quarter interview during Monday’s summer-league game regarding this year’s roster. Every time I listen to Jackson discuss the team, (after I get past the bad Bulls memories from the 90s) I gain more and more confidence in the direction the team is heading. He has a vision for the team, and he will carry it out his way because he knows it works.
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