“In Arabic,” Borges writes, “Zahir means visible, evident; in that sense, it is one of the ninety-nine names of God; in Muslim countries, the masses use the word for beings or things which have the terrible power to be unforgettable, and whose image eventually drives people mad.” That phrase always snags my heart — “the terrible power to be unforgettable.” What kind of power? Over others? The self? “Terrible” as in threatening? Or revered, held in awe?
I started following the Knicks when I was 12. That season Patrick Ewing finished third in the league in points. I was 25 before I saw a better offensive Knick than Ewing. That’s no slam on the franchise. As powerful as Pat’s paint prowess was, there’s never been a pivot of such pulchritude and proficiency proliferating from the perimeter. That package doesn’t come along often.
Allan Houston blossomed into the fullness of his game in the winter of 2003, with 50-point games a month apart en route to a career-high 22.5 a night that year. Houston finished eighth in the Association in points, boasting an offensive armada that had it all. Face-up. Spot-up. Pull-up. Post-up. Triple threat. Off the dribble. Fadeaway. Three-level assassin, all with the softest of touches; when Houston splashed a jumper, the net was as negligee. When he really felt like letting his hair down, he’d bust out some breakaway ballhandling bewitchery.
I couldn’t imagine a scorer evolving beyond Houston’s total package. He wasn’t the greatest scorer of his time — Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson dueled for that honor. But Iverson’s speed and Bryant’s athleticism weren’t skills Houston could develop. Just about everything within his control, he’d mastered. Imagine Batman, only without the mask. And pretty smiley. That was Allan Houston.
Like Batman, I never imagined someone like Bane coming along. Nor that he’d be pretty smiley, too.
An eight-year-old moving out of New York City is not news. Happens literally every day. Knick fans in 1992 had bigger concerns in mind than some kid leaving the city limits for Baltimore. Knick fans in 1992 had Michael Jordan in mind, had the world champion Bulls in mind. Baltimore hasn’t had a team since the Knicks were world champions. Why we talking about Baltimore?
Because the kid who left for Baltimore, who had his debutante ball in 2003 at Syracuse and went on to a 19-year Hall-of-Fame career, nearly joined the pantheon of NYC NBA greats who never played for the Knicks. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Julius Erving sit atop the three highest peaks — no worries; these are implausibly comfy peaks. Bob Cousy and Chris Mullin have a terrific view from their vantage.
There’s an empty unit on their floor. If history had turned out differently — if the 2009 Denver Nuggets beat Kobe’s Lakers in the Western finals, then Orlando in the Finals — maybe, with a title in hand, the Nuggets and Carmelo Anthony find a way to make it last. Instead, the once-skinny, always-smiling Syracusian grew to be two inches and 40 pounds bigger than Allan Houston — all of the grace, now with girth. And then he came home. Sound the trumpets. Drop the confetti. Cue the controversy.
The marriage negotiations were . . . concerning. If the Knicks were your friend in 2011, a friend with the 2002-2011 Knicks’ dating history, you wouldn’t have trusted Carmelo Anthony. He said all the right things, batted those hermosa eyelashes, but if he were really in love, why didn’t he just commit? Play out the last few months of his contract, then sign with the Knicks for a buttload of dollars. He’d make slightly less than he could if Denver extended him as part of a sign-and-trade, true, but Madison Avenue was just as excited for Melo as Madison Square Garden. He’d make up the difference, and then some.
Nope. The bride caved. Melo got what he wanted. The Knicks did, too, or at least the King of the Knicks did. The couple wed, but for some this was the first sign of Melo’s Achilles heel: a fatal narcissism. If he were really all about winning, why not prioritize cap space over more money for himself? If he were really about winning, where the rebounds? The assists? The want? The Kobe?
This is my final piece at P&T. It should end with Carmelo. In my decade on this site, no other player shook up the anthill as consistently or tectonically as Anthony — before his arrival, during his tenure and to this very day. If you’re 35 and under, he’s the greatest Knick of your lifetime; for anyone too young to see the title-winning teams, it’s Ewing, with Melo and Bernard King way back in the rearview mirror. Anthony is arguably the second-greatest Knick of the last 50 years and inarguably the most revered among his peers. He didn’t ask for your glazed donut face ass to root for him anyway, and aye! there’s the rub. Some of them want to abuse you. Some of them want to be abused.
Some people are pissed in 2023 that Melo put his interests ahead of the Knicks’ in 2011. It may rub you wrong that he didn’t tithe some of that scoring energy and put it toward other parts of his game, which is where things get all tingly and confusing — because a Melo who averaged five, six assists a game? With better defense and athleticism? That’s a Melo you couldn’t lose with, obviously?
Honestly, I kid. I don’t cast judgment on whatever you make of Melo. I close with what Melo means to me now, as a fan in 2023. It’s not what it meant five years ago, much less 10 or 12.
I write a lot with metaphor, analogy and whatever other options the English language has for indirection. Long story short: integration’s a bitch. Doesn’t come easy for some. For me. I’m some. See?
So there’s all this energy pushing Carmelo to be something else, be something more, as if people literally named for “fanatics” have any sense of less, more, enough. “[T]he terrible power to be unforgettable . . . whose image eventually drives people mad.” That pressure breaks people every minute, every day. Our world is built on this inexorability. What is Anthony’s response, the smiling man before the madding, maddened masses?
Melo refused to fragment. It might have helped my favorite basketball team win more if he had. Instead, he stayed Melo. If Anthony wrote the way he played, he wouldn’t use many metaphors and analogies. Writing doesn’t give out rings, so “voice” is appreciated on the page in a way “style” often isn’t on the court. Melo has oodles of voice. Like Pavarotti, only doing it with the rest of the body. That’s what he means to me, today, for whatever it’s worth. Tomorrow I’ll be different. Maybe he’ll hit different, then.
In “The Zahir,” Borges writes of a coin that entrances any who see it. Every day the victim spends more and more time looking at it; eventually the obsession kills them. I first read that story 20 years ago. I’d imagine the slimness of the last moment before seeing the coin and being caught in its grip. Could you escape if you got rid of it right away, in the first few minutes? Would it be tangible, the fleeling final moments when action was still possible? The gaps where salvation might hide: that’s what I was looking for then.
Today the story hits different. Now I try to imagine what that person is — or isn’t — feeling when they’re looking at the coin. If you found a better way to live, but it looked strange to others, would you give up on it? We talk of elders who pass on after the life goes out of them; they aren’t suffering, they’re just done. The body was ready, or the soul, or both. What would it look like to be ready when you’re young? To have done what you came to do? What does obsession look like when the obsessed wouldn’t have it any other way? And what if