Carmelo Anthony’s flawed genius hit different because I saw his faults in myself | NBA

I wasn’t prepared for Carmelo Anthony’s retirement announcement. One, because I thought he would, and should, play a few more years. He was still in game shape and could bring a veteran scoring presence to any team in the NBA.

The second reason is because I am in the middle of the most consequential separation of my adult life with the woman I still consider my soul mate. As with Anthony, or Melo, as he is known affectionately by his fans, there was no obvious inciting incident. Melo and the game seemed to drift apart and neither could give the other what they wanted. The same can be said for my former partner and me. The video Melo released showcasing his amazing journey from the gang-infested streets of Baltimore, to the mountaintop of Syracuse, to becoming the ninth leading scorer in NBA history broke me. I had yet to cry for the ending of my relationship, but Monday’s news brought my grief to the fore: one of our favorite rituals was watching the NBA and cheering for the Knicks together.

She was not a Knicks fan before we met. Our first date was watching the 2016 NBA finals at Hooters. Watching her cheer for LeBron James and the underdog Cleveland Cavaliers in the glow of a 100 televisions over a pitcher of Miller Lite was the moment I fell in love with her. When we spoke for the first time on Monday morning, it was to discuss where I would be moving. I asked her if she would help me find an apartment, as she was so much better than me at finding a deal. As the tears welled in my eyes, I apologized and told her that I was trying to be strong but that my favorite player was retiring, pushing me past my breaking point. The first year we dated, Melo was still on the team, surrounded by players far inferior to him and under the misguided “leadership” of Phil Jackson, who disgraced Melo at every turn. Knowing how much both of them meant to me, she gifted me a loving and empathetic “I’m sorry.”

My partner was there when Melo was traded from the Knicks to Oklahoma City. We watched his abrupt exit from OKC after just a season, then again, a failed fit in Houston. We cheered together for his resurgence in Portland. And then hoped he would finally win it all with his buddy LeBron in Los Angeles. There’s no hidden irony in Melo’s career ending the same day as our relationship. Like Melo, it had been fading for some time. The acknowledgment that neither Melo nor I would experience the intimacy of winning was an unspoken understanding.

That Melo never won it all in the NBA was one of the reasons I defended him with such vigor. I have always loved an underdog story, and Melo’s was one of the best. I kept a signed copy of his book, Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised, by my bedside. For those who have escaped poverty and are learning how to be, it was my Bible. Melo’s mistakes, chasing the bag, and “love him or hate him” persona resonated with me, perhaps too deeply. Knicks fans have a mantra, “Once a Knick, always a Knick.” With Melo, it was more than that. He was the one player I would always go to war for. I saw so many of my failures in him. He was a player who never won it all and will be remembered in equal measure for his failings. In that, too, I relate. I might not have married the girl of my dreams, but I take solace in knowing I’m not the only one who has fallen short of their goals.

Carmelo Anthony with the New York Knicks in 2012.
Carmelo Anthony with the New York Knicks in 2012. Photograph: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Melo entered the NBA at the height of the one-man isolation circus. His off-the-dribble skill set fit perfectly in a league with Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, and Kobe Bryant. But as the league evolved and superteams were formed in Boston, Miami, and Los Angeles, Melo chose the road alone, choosing the bag over free agency and teaming up with his 2003 draft class buddies, James and Dwyane Wade, in Miami. As the league continued to change, it left Melo behind. No longer were teams looking for the next great gunner, but instead, those who could plug and play within a team identity. No longer could you be the first option as a scorer. You had to play defense and make your teammates better. Those were two skills Melo never prioritized. His game had been enough. And why not? He had experienced winning the NCAA championship as a freshman at Syracuse while making the playoffs all eight seasons with the Denver Nuggets, who drafted him third overall.

Like Melo, I, too, suffered from main-character syndrome. Growing up without any control over your circumstances, unable to escape trauma, poverty and environmental violence, can breed that kind of egocentric mindset. As an adult, I willed my existence to serve my needs, giving me the power I never had as a child. It caused me to be selfish and bend the world around me to my needs. This type of thinking can whisk everyone around you into a chaotic frenzy. For Melo, it created four teammates standing idly by while he unleashed one of the greatest bags of offensive tricks ever seen. For me, it created two different relationships, one for each of our point-of-views. Ultimately, we went from a team to separate people, and nobody won. But Melo’s seemingly unbreakable charm, the almost angelic naivety that his way would always win, was my favorite attribute of his. It’s the one trait I made for myself. It could be called arrogance or gall. It could create heroes or brutes. These binary perceptions embody the two drastically different responses to Melo’s legacy, as they reflect the differing points of view when a relationship dissolves.

As a Knicks fan who started watching in 2002, I have only known pain. So for me, Melo arrived in New York as an epiphany. An All-Star 10 times, seven of his selections, including the NBA’s scoring title in 2013, were in a Knicks jersey from 2011 through 2017, the prime of his career.

As a Knick, Melo provided my only glimpse of success in two decades: he averaged 24.7 points, seven rebounds, and 2.3 assists while making the All-Star team every season. Only eight other players have walked onto an NBA floor and scored more points than Melo. Only eight. This, as well as his three Olympic gold medals with Team USA, are just two of the reasons he was voted on the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team by his peers. Another reason is he never ran from the smoke. He took on every challenge by himself, for better or worse. Melo will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when his time comes. But that won’t make up for how current coaches and executives have chosen to keep him out of the league. No one has stuck up for him, allowing him to go all season without a call, forcing him into a retirement outside of his own terms. There was no farewell tour or magic moment at the Garden. There was just a letter to those he loved that he was done. Melo was always the same, on and off the court. He never ran from the media, carrying a team, questions about his intentions, or difficult matchups. And like most of our lives, it didn’t turn out how he wanted. When I watched Melo on the court, I watched more than a player, but a fully realized person, flaws and all. Melo isn’t my favorite player just because of how good he was. He is my favorite player because he is the most relatable.