There can only be one number one.
Flashback: July 8, 2010 – the day of The Decision. Rumors were swirling and entire cities were holding their breaths. Cleveland wanted their King back. Miami wanted its own Big Three. Chicago wanted an icon again. New York wanted its Basketball Messiah. The lines were drawn, alliances had been made. Cleveland hired Byron Scott to coach. Dwayne Wade brought Chris Bosh to Miami. Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer were paired in Chicago. Amar’e Stoudemire went to the bright lights of New York City.
It was there that he hoped to be paired with another star. Amar’e was ready to be the Robin to Lebron James' Batman. He, as well as every Knicks fan, had high hopes that Lebron was going to New York. But he didn’t. Instead, he joined his friends in Miami. Amar’e was left alone on a young Knicks team.
Cut To: December 22, 2010 – Knicks vs Thunder in Madison Square Garden. The Knicks had just lost three in a row after winning eight straight. That eight game win streak was capped by Amar’e’s streak of 30 point games. But the Knicks were reeling. They had lost to Boston and Miami in the past week. Worst of all, they lost to the Cavs (the Cavs!). The Knicks needed a win to get back into their groove. They needed to prove they can beat a playoff caliber team.
Enter the Thunder.
I was at that game and remember the life of the crowd. I remember how the crowd’s energy exploded after Amar’e blocked a shot and after he made a dunk. The atmosphere was beyond electric. The MSG crowd had been dying for a reason to be excited. Amar’e and those young Knicks became that reason. He was leading this team into the future. A decade of embarrassment disappeared into the night sky with the victory. Pouring out of MSG and onto the streets, the fans brought the energy from the Garden out into the city itself. New York City was resurrected. Basketball had returned.
Cut To: February 21, 2011 – Melo comes to New York. It was the day of the Carmelo Anthony trade. New York finally had its second superstar. Gone were the young Knicks Amar’e led. Gone were fan favorites Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. Gone was the rejuvenated Raymond Felton who Knicks took to their hearts. Now it was STAT and Melo, or should I say Melo and STAT.
I remember hearing about the trade and thinking this might’ve been too much. The chemistry of the Knicks was being played with and whenever you’re messing with chemistry, expect bad results. I also remember thinking Chauncey Billups’ a bit too old for D’Antoni’s system (then he proved me wrong by outperforming my expectations, then he proved me right by getting hurt and looking old) and that the Knicks’ bench is depleted (and this was before they got rid of Corey Brewer for Jared Freakin’ Jeffries).
Anyway, back to the team’s chemistry. The Knicks brought in another alpha dog type player in Melo. He was supposed to be the hometown kid that came home to save basketball. He was supposed to be the star that all the fans gravitated to. Only problem is, New York already gave its heart to Amar’e. He was the leader, but now Melo was brought in to help them make that playoff push. But having two alpha dogs rarely works, if it ever does. There always need to be a Robin for the Batman. There can’t be two Batmans. Look at all the past championship teams, you could name the one player whose team it was. Look at all the playoff teams this year, each of them had their number one. Look at Miami, it took them a while before they could click.
Even the Heat’s starting to figure out that it’s Dwayne Wade’s team. He brought Lebron and Bosh in and he already gave Miami a championship. Lebron might be more talented, but Wade’s a leader. He has that quality, that aura that makes others follow him. We thought Lebron had it, but he’s more suited to be Robin than Batman. Lebron’s the scorer but Wade’s the leader. Their team works better when they take those roles.
Same could be said for the Knicks. This was Amar’e’s team before Melo came in. New York embraced Amar’e for not shunning the bright spotlight of the city. Then he was expected to hand the reigns over to Melo because he’s the better scorer. Melo is, but Amar’e, like Wade, might be the better leader. Look how he carried the team before the trade. He set the tone on offense and defense. Before the trade, the team wasn’t as bad defensively as some would think. They weren’t great either, but they weren’t terrible.
Melo can score at will, see Game 2 of the Knicks-Celtics series. Also see the last shot of Game 1 and you’ll see that he wants those big moments to himself. True leaders know when to shine and when to make others shine. You can even see it in the body language. Melo let his emotions play him. This was shown in Denver as the trade rumors affected him, and his team as well. The leader’s aura must never bring the team down. The leader must be able to control his energy and emotions as well as the teams. I don’t think Melo can do that yet.
Amar’e has shown what he can do in the leadership role. Melo can be the scorer as long as he lets Amar’e be the leader. True teams have one leader, not two trying to unsuccessfully do the job. There’s a reason it was Russell’s team, or Wilt’s team, or Larry’s team, or Michael’s team. Even more recently: Garnett revitalized the Celtics, it’s Kobe’s Lakers, Durant’s Thunder, Rose’s Bulls and Duncan was the soul of the Spurs. Let’s not forget Chris Paul who led his team to nearly dethrone the Lakers.
Leaders are an important part of basketball, just as important as chemistry. So the Knicks need to figure out who they want their leader to be if they want to join the ranks of the elite. Melo can be a leader. He wants to be the leader. But he's not ready yet. Amar'e's probably more willing to play the secondary role than Melo. But right now he's the leader the Knicks need.