Can Carmelo Anthony Become an All-Time New York Knicks Great Without a Title?
You might not think so, given the expectations surrounding Anthony.
He's the marquee guy on a team with two other All-Star-caliber players, gunning for a title in the biggest media market in the world. Melo might have some leeway in the short term, but from a long-term perspective, it's championship or bust.
We are talking specifically about the Knicks, though, and so we must consider the team's history in order to examine Anthony's place in it. Though the Knicks are one of the oldest and most storied franchises in NBA history, they have only two titles to their name. In that regard, a ring would certainly ensure Melo's place in the Knicks' pantheon, but there are many franchise greats without one.
That's the conundrum. The prevailing sentiment says that Melo must win in New York, but history says otherwise.
In order to get a better idea of where Anthony stands, let's take a look at some guys who are already all-time Knicks greats, breaking them down into tiers.
We start, of course, with a man in a class by himself.
The Ewing Tier
No one is even thinking about comparing Carmelo Anthony to Patrick Ewing. However, Ewing does provide the simplest argument in Anthony's defense: If Ewing, who is hands down the greatest Knick ever, did not win a ring, why does Melo need one?
Well, here's why. Ewing played 15 seasons for the Knicks and made 11 All-Star teams, was named to the All-NBA Team seven times and made the All-NBA Defensive Team three times. He was both the most prolific and most accomplished Knick, ranking first in team history in games, minutes, points, rebounds, blocks, steals, field goals (made and attempted) and free throws (made and attempted).
It's a catch-22. Ewing does, in fact, prove that a ringless Knick can be an all-time great. But if Melo needs to match Ewing's decorated career to reach that level, then that distinction is beyond his grasp.
The "Glory Days" Tier
In the decades since, the 1970 and 1973 championship teams have taken on a mythic quality, as have the men who brought the titles to New York.
Some, like Walt Frazier and Willis Reed, did not need any rings to ensure their place in the annals of Knicks history. Earl Monroe, Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley also qualify here to a somewhat lesser extent.
Each of these guys is in the Hall of Fame, and their names and numbers reside in the rafters of Madison Square Garden. Anthony will need more than a few superstar seasons to reach that legendary status.
The "Fan Favorite" Tier
If Melo can't catch Ewing and doesn't win a ring, this is his last chance at Knicks immortality.
The poster children for this group are Bernard King, Charles Oakley and Allan Houston.
King and Houston both made multiple All-Star teams, while Oakley was twice an All-NBA defender. On top of that, each has earned a place in fans' hearts for his style of play: King's effortless scoring, Oakley's unmatched toughness, Houston's consistency and finesse.
None of these guys delivered the hardware to New York, but all are still loved for the intangible identity they brought to the franchise. It remains to be seen whether Melo can be that singular character for Knicks fans.
Right now, Anthony is set to become a free agent again in the summer of 2015. If that is the end of his tenure in New York, he will have four-and-a-half seasons with the Knicks to his name.
For starters, he will certainly have to make at least one more All-Star Game. Considering the distinction is very much a matter of popularity nowadays, it's no longer the best indicator of a player's status, but it is still valid. Flawed as it is, All-Star appearances are one of the few ways we can compare a Carmelo Anthony to an Allan Houston to a Bill Bradley.
He's had one full season as a Knick, and he has one All-Star appearance. If he keeps up his current level of play, he'll get multiple All-Star nods over the next three seasons. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Anthony plays in three All-Star Games as a Knick. In that department, he would surpass Houston, Monroe and, most notably, King.
Among the Knick greats, King is the closest comparison for Melo: another high-flying small forward who had a brief but electrifying tenure in New York. If Anthony's four seasons with the Knicks can outdo King's three, it will be difficult to keep him off any list of Knick greats.
However, the All-Star Games are not enough. Michael Ray Richardson was a three-time All-Star in his four seasons as a Knick. Yet for reasons both on and off the court, he did not capture the hearts and minds of New York the same way King did.
In all likelihood, history would look more kindly at King in this scenario than it would Anthony. Bill Cartwright and Truck Robinson are not Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler; King's success as the sole serious threat in New York would outshine Melo's with an All-Star supporting cast.
To make a profound impact, then, Anthony will have to lead the Knicks on a deep playoff run.
As likable as Houston was, he would not be remembered so fondly if not for his dramatic role in the Knicks' 1999 run to the NBA Finals. Like Houston before him, Melo could need a momentous upset of the Miami Heat to secure his place in Knicks lore.
That's where Carmelo Anthony stands.
If he wants to be remembered as a Knick, all he has to do is win a title. Otherwise, he needs to do everything in his prodigious power to bring his team as close as he possibly can. Knicks fans will respect that; after all, it's what they know best.
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