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Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson are both innocents

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Hey, perhaps we can give both guys a break.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Carmelo Anthony will not, apparently, waive his no-trade clause. Phil Jackson will not, apparently, publicly address much of anything having to do with the team he runs. Anthony’s refusal to uproot his wife and child to chase a ring the rest of the world has decided he should prioritize above all else rubs folks the wrong way. Jackson’s silent complicity or passive resistance to any- and everything Charley Rosen writes about the Knicks is the latest cherry atop the Phil-can’t-GM cake some folks have been baking since March 18, 2014. What if our problems with each man aren’t really real? What if the problem lies elsewhere? With us?

* * *

Anthony earned his NTC for two reasons:

  1. He was good/smart enough to ask for it.
  2. He was good/smart enough to get it.

Neither James Dolan nor Steven Mills nor Jackson accused Anthony of extortion after signing him to a five-year, $124M extension in 2015. Probably nobody reading this article would turn down the kind of clout and job security and money Melo secured for himself and his family. Anthony’s comments at the Boston shootaround made it clear: the Rosen comments and media fallout/backlash since then are precisely why he got the NTC in the first place.

In the midst of all the drama, it’s worth listening to the man speak, rather than simply reading his quotes online or in the papers. Even as the team seems set to spiral yet again, even as his job performance is increasingly slandered and denigrated, Anthony seems upbeat. He laughs. He jokes. He’s mellow. What if his Knick legacy is not a championship? What if it’s retaining and reflecting his humanity while the fans and the press storm and swirl around him? What if Kristaps Porzingis is taking note of how a man handles being NYC’s NBA centerpiece? What if Carmelo’s son is watching and learning something about priorities and dignity that doesn’t show up on basketball-reference.com?

What if La La goes to bed at night knowing her husband cares more about their shared life and love than what NBA Twitter thinks of his legacy?

* * *

This tweet is just one atom in a grain of a sand on a beach in a country on a continent in a hemisphere on a planet in a solar system in a galaxy in a universe of tweets, the sort of thing we think (and therefore share) because now more than ever our thoughts matter. The moment matters, too, also more than ever, so much so we’ll warp our thoughts (and therefore ourselves) to fit the moment. They may fall short of actually saying anything true, and more so anything important, but at least they die young and leave a screenshot-able corpse.

Carmelo Anthony came to the Knicks at age 26. Compare Denver Melo to NY Melo’s per game averages:

DEN 36 minutes/8.8 FGs/19.3 FGAs/0.7 3Ps/2.3 3PA/6.3 REBs/3.1 ASTs/24.8 PTS

NYK 36 minutes/8.8 FGs/19.9 FGAs/1.8 3Ps/5.0 3PA/7.0 REBs/3.3 ASTs/24.9 PTS

The guy the Knicks traded for is pretty much the guy they got.

Ahh, but individual numbers pale before rings. Anthony has never taken a team to the NBA Finals, much less won it all. Overrated, right? Melo was epically passed over by Joe Dumars and Detroit drafted third by Denver in 2003. From 2000-2010, the other players drafted third = Darius Miles, Pau Gasol, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Ben Gordon, Deron Williams, Adam Morrison, Al Horford, O.J. Mayo, James Harden, and Derrick Favors. Gasol never got past the first round before becoming Kobe Bryant’s L.A. sidekick. Harden’s apex so far is also the conference finals. Was Pau overrated? Is Harden? Maybe he’s just not overrated enough yet. Or maybe he hasn’t been around long enough to go from victor to vilified.

* * *

We laugh at Phil Jackson. He’s old, and most of us aren’t as old as him, so we poke fun, because culturally we’re still on the median between dismissing our elderly and eventually massacring them for a cheap food source. When a former Jackson underling writes an article that criticizes Carmelo, we dig out the pitchforks and torches and storm the internet, writing articles about Phil being an embarrassment and accusing Phil of being out-of-touch and/or a douche.

Jackson has spent a half-century working in professional basketball. He was a wild success as a player (making All-Rookie First Team and playing a dozen years in the NBA lands you in the 90-something percentile of NBA careers). He enjoyed unprecedented success as a head coach, winning 11 titles over two decades. That’s more than Gregg Popovich and Pat Riley combined. Read that again before eliding over it.

Ahh, but he had MJ. Scottie. Shaq. Kobe. Anyone would win with talent like that, right? Know how many seasons Jordan, Pippen, O’Neal and Bryant played under coaches besides Jackson? 37. Know how many championships they won in those 37 seasons? One. A chef can’t wow if they don’t have the right ingredients. A five-star dinner doesn’t cook itself, either.

Jackson has had one first-round pick running the Knicks and used it on Kristaps Porzingis. That’s like only getting one swing in the bottom of the ninth and hitting a grand slam. Critics claim if the Knicks hadn’t fallen from second to fourth in the lottery in 2014, he would’ve taken Jahlil Okafor or D’Angelo Russell. You know why Michael Jordan is a Bull? Because Portland took Sam Bowie. Melo was a Nugget because Darko became a Piston. If is is the matter of life, ‘cuz is the dark matter. Jackson took KP because he was in position to do so. He was in position to do so because his success over 50 years grants him the immunity to do what he thinks is right and not give a shit what Dolan or rivals or unnamed sources or Frank Isola or you or I think about any of it. Isn’t that what people wanted when he was brought to NY?

If being a Knick fan was a corporate gig, all about the bottom line of W’s and L’s, we all would’ve jumped ship a long time ago. For two hours and change 82 nights a year (usually, sadly, just 82), I sit on my ass and forget about my student loans, the planet getting hotter and dirtier, and the irony of everyday understanding myself more and more and the outside world less and less. Displacing a sense of ownership over other men’s lives is a problem they don’t deserve and I don’t need, either.