'Hey LeBron, did you ever see that movie "Face/Off"? I'm Travolta.'
In 2003, the New York Knicks selected Mike Sweetney out of Georgetown with the ninth pick in the draft. That didn't turn out very well. And it's a real shame that they didn't have a top-five pick that year.
Carmelo Anthony led the Syracuse Orangemen to a glorious title as a freshman and then immediately declared for the draft.
Meanwhile, LeBron James was in Akron, OH at St. Vincent–St. Mary playing high school basketball and trying to pass algebra. And Darko Miličić was playing for Hemofarm Vrsac in Serbia.
Melo was drafted by the Denver Nuggets right after James and Miličić were selected No. 1 and No. 2 respectively.
The result? One of them is part of the conversation about the best basketball player of all time. The other is Darko Miličić. Yet both have won NBA titles (LeBron with the Miami Heat in 2012 and Darko with the Detroit Pistons in 2004).
The two players drafted after Anthony have also won NBA titles (Chris Bosh in 2012 and Dwyane Wade in 2006 and 2012). But LeBron James deservedly gets the lion's share of the credit for that 2012 title.
And then there's Carmelo Anthony.
He began his career a year ahead of LeBron, with an NCAA championship to his credit, and has since fallen way, way behind. Barring a sudden accumulation of NBA titles, Melo will always live in LeBron's shadow.
There's not much shame in this, however, considering that practically all NBA players—except perhaps Kobe Bryant, owner of five rings—live in LeBron's shadow. But after going No. 1 and No. 3 in the same draft, LeBron and Melo are inextricably linked.
Anthony is probably the superior pure scorer, but James bests him in every other aspect of the game (ball handling, passing, rebounding, defense, playoff success, et al).
The playoff record is what really tarnishes Melo's standing. Aside from 2009, when his Nuggets lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals, Anthony's teams have a 6-32 record in the playoffs.
That's pretty, pretty, pretty bad. In fact, 2009 was the only time Carmelo's team made it out of the first round, whereas LeBron has been to the NBA Finals three times already.
But things are looking up for Anthony this season. He and James helped Team USA win gold at the London Olympics this summer, and it has made a marked contribution to Melo's focus and attitude.
He spoke during training camp of sacrificing his scoring stats to better help the team. He stated:
I’m done trying to score 30, 35, 40 points for us to win a basketball game. I don't want that role anymore. . . In order for this team to be successful with the guys that we have, we need a more well-rounded team (via Newsday).
Anthony opened the season in the 104-84 victory over the Miami Heat by breaking the letter of that promise (he scored 30 points on 10-of-28 shooting), but he stayed true to the spirit of his word. Before the game, he showed new-found leadership in addressing the crowd at Madison Square Garden that had been beleaguered by Superstorm Sandy.
He then played like he had brought his lunch pail to MSG, snagging 10 rebounds to go with two steals. Anthony guarded James for much of the game as both players spent the majority of their minutes at the power forward position. Melo limited King James to 23 points and helped force him to cough up five turnovers.
The Knicks got their revenge on the team that bounced them from last season's playoffs, and they served notice on the Eastern Conference that this revamped roster is ready to make some noise.
They also delivered a home-opener victory to a fanbase desperate for something to cheer about.
On Sunday against the Philadelphia 76ers, Anthony added 27 more points to go along with five rebounds, two blocks and a steal in the 100-84 victory.
And his pure effort was on display for all to see. At one point in the first quarter, he hustled back on a breakaway and blocked Nick Young's shot, then pursued the ball and hurdled into the second row attempting to save it.
It's that sort of effort from Anthony that is emblematic of his new attitude. If he can sustain that over the season and through the playoffs, he could set himself on the road to emerging from LeBron's shadow.
After all, King James only has one ring, and Melo sounds and looks determined to match that total this season. For now, the road to the NBA Finals goes through Miami, but that could change in a New York minute.