What makes a man's legacy? For something that engenders such ferverous discussion, coming up constantly in the morning rounds of hot-take debate shows, the types in which chirping canaries pick and pick at the same fruit until it's nothing but a rotten core, we rarely examine what the word really means.
Is it what you accomplish as a professional? Are you forever remembered by the world for your moments on the public stage, the last-second buzzer beaters, the number of RINGZZZ on your fingers?
Or is legacy something much simpler? Family. Happiness. Being able to compartmentalize professional accomplishments with what "really matters." The life of a professional athlete is such that we rarely view them in three dimensions. They are mere avatars who are looking to satisfy criteria that we—those of us who cannot soar to the rim or effortlessly flick our wrists and touch nothing but nylon—have set up for them in an inane battle of good versus evil.
Carmelo Anthony, at the moment, probably knows this better than anybody. The seven-time All-Star is the prize of the NBA free-agent market—at least the one is actually seen around the league as being available. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, while technically free agents, are all but certain to keep their talents in South Beach.
Melo? He's available. He spent most of Tuesday in Chicago being courted by Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau. Wednesday marks Houston and Dallas before a trip to Los Angeles to speak with the Lakers on Thursday, per ESPN's Marc Stein. The Knicks will probably end up with final say, but if we've learned anything over these past few years, when a player schedules visits in other cities, he's looking at real-estate pricing along the way.
The answer to why Anthony might leave the bright lights of New York City is rooted in that aforementioned and oft-frustrating noun.
Eleven years into his NBA career, Anthony has zero NBA Finals appearances. He's been to a conference finals just once. In this same period, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have been to five Finals, and Chris Bosh has been to four. Hell, Darko Milicic has a ring.
The playoff successes of his contemporaries have helped form a narrative in which Anthony became the NBA's most polarizing superstar. Every defensive misstep, every contested three-pointer, every check in the loss column is an indictment on his status among the game's best players. There is no "chill button" when it comes to Carmelo analysis. Only lava-hot takes from fans who speak in only binaries of "best thing ever" and "terrible."
It also doesn't help that the Knicks are a dumpster fire. Incompetency at the ownership and front-office levels left the Garden filled with overpriced wreckage they attempted to call a basketball team—and Anthony turning in the best professional season of his career trying to salvage it all.
Owner James Dolan cleaned house and brought in Phil Jackson as his shiny new face of the front office, but the NBA unfortunately doesn't take the offerings of Zen wisdom in exchange for salary-cap space. Jackson's moves this offseason—like the one sending Tyson Chandler to Dallas and bringing in Jose Calderon—amount to a shuffling of the deck chairs for 2014. The Knicks, at best, are going to be a borderline playoff team that competes merely because they reside in the miserable Eastern Conference.
If Anthony views his legacy in the way we've come to publicly define it, there is no alternative: He leaves the Knicks in a...New York minute. (Sorry.)
The Bulls have a former MVP in Rose, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Noah, another elite defensive big in Gibson, a rising two-way player in Jimmy Butler and a Euroleague stud in Nikola Mirotic whose arrival has been hyped for years. No matter how Miami's Big Three rejiggers its cap space to add surrounding pieces, the Bulls with Anthony are an instant championship threat.
The Rockets have the NBA's best center (yes, still) in Dwight Howard, the NBA's best shooting guard in James Harden, an unrelenting bulldog defender in Patrick Beverley and arguably the league's best general manager in Daryl Morey. With some creative timing, Anthony can sign in Houston and the Rockets can retain restricted free agent Chandler Parsons. The West is a gauntlet, but Anthony can put the Rockets in the conversation with San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
The Mavericks and Lakers have admittedly less. Dallas can sell Rick Carlisle, a reunion with Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki, but that's not a core comparable to Houston or Chicago. The Lakers hold roughly the same status as an unending pit of uncertainty as New York.
The point being here that Anthony has options. Placing all other considerations on hold and focusing only on that elusive ring puts Melo in a Rockets or Bulls uniform by midweek.
But, for a second, let's allow for consideration that Anthony is not some avatar character inside our PS4. He's a 30-year-old man with a wife and a son who values stability in his personal life and the happiness of those closest to him. We should consider these facts because Anthony himself made it clear they that factor into any decision he makes.
"The average person just sees the opportunity to say, Melo should go here, Melo should go there,’" Anthony said in an interview with VICE Sports. "But they don’t take into consideration the family aspect of it, your livelihood, where you’re going to be living. Do you want your kids to grow up in that place? Do I want to spend the rest of my career in that situation, in that city?
Anthony's wife, entertainer La La Anthony, spent most of her childhood in Brooklyn. Anthony, of course, was born in the same borough's Red Hook projects. Part of the reason Anthony forced a trade from Denver to New York was so that he and La La could settle down in the city they once called home. It's not hard to connect the dots between his July 2010 wedding and his angling for a trade out of Denver. In fact, the plan may have been hatched within minutes of his nuptials.
For all of the on-court frustrations, Anthony and his family have settled into the New York lifestyle. The city is one of two meccas of entertainment in this country along with Los Angeles. La La parlayed a one-off wedding special into her own reality show on VH1 and appearances in feature films like Baggage Claim and Think Like a Man Too. She's was also cast in a television series for Starz network last year set in—you guessed it—New York City.
There have been some who have tried painting Anthony's wife in a negative light, insinuating that her acting career is in some way affecting the way he treats free agency. Last month, La La told TMZ that "of course" she has a say in what happens with Anthony's free agency. Please take five minutes and check the comments section of any sports website with that video embedded. It's deserving of a seat at the big kid's table at this year's misogynists Thanksgiving summit.
Here's the thing: She should have a say. The last time I checked, a marriage is a two-way partnership. They have a child together. If Anthony can play basketball in New York and La La can base her multimedia career out of the same city, that seems like a pretty plum deal for a celebrity relationship.
If you think that is unreasonable, go ahead and tell your significant other that you're taking a job that requires he or she a) quit his or her current job and come with you or b) sees you only intermittently for eight months. Have fun taking care of the kid while you're at it, honey!
That's one of the major issues with sports fandom. We—a collective that includes fans and media types as well—outright refuse to acknowledge athletes as human beings with competing interests. Switching teams does not mean swapping out jerseys; it means willingly uprooting your life. Athletes do not belong to us and have no responsibility to fill the criteria that we set when making these decisions. A person prioritizing what they want over the next four or five years should not give a second thought to a collective of other people they barely know.
If Anthony's priority in this moment is getting the most out of his basketball career, then he shouldn't even give the Knicks so much as a courtesy meeting. He probably shouldn't have taken a flight from Chicago to Texas.
If Anthony's priority is happiness and security—both in terms of his family life and the extra $30 million the Knicks can offer—then he'll be at MSG on opening night.
I don't think Anthony knows which of those two things he wants at the moment. It's why he's taking these meetings. It's why he is traveling to each city rather than having teams come to him. It's why his free agency is the one that packs by far the most intrigue this summer.
When Anthony signs his next contract, he'll be telling us far more than where he's playing basketball. He'll be telling us what Carmelo Anthony, 30-year-old man with a wife and a kid, wants from his next half-decade.
No matter his destination, know that there is much more nuance to it than the binary arguments bandied about on the ever-so-popular shouting shows. And that's OK.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: @tylerconway22