Is Carmelo Anthony Now the Most Polarizing Player in the NBA?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2012

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 23:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat guards Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks during a game at American Airlines Arena on February 23, 2012 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

LeBron James is an NBA champion and now suddenly, well, boring.

Okay, I jest. Sort of.

Now that James is donning a championship ring, the monkey is off his back, and much of the intrigue surrounding him has disappeared or shifted gears. James is no longer the league's most polarizing storyline—in a good way.

James is no longer the star who couldn't capture the NBA's most elusive, crowning achievement. He is no longer the prolific talent who didn't lead a championship cause. He is no longer the superstar who had yet to take that next step toward solidifying his legacy.

But Carmelo Anthony is.

Like James, Anthony came out of that star-studded 2003 draft class. But unlike James—and Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade—he has yet to lead either of his teams to a title. In fact, in nine years, 'Melo has made it past the first round of postseason play just once.

And that's why much of the attention that was surrounding James, plaguing James, will begin to meander its way toward Anthony.

No, the Knicks cornerstone isn't chasing the same type of Michael Jordan-esque immortality that James is, but he is chasing a sense of validation.

Because as fulfilling as perennial offense may be, only so much solace, so much purpose, can be found in ringless one-dimensionality; Anthony cannot hide behind his point totals and regular-season heroics forever.

While superstars are often measured by their stat lines, they're also measured by their hardware, especially the ones who abandoned the ship of another organization. Currently, Anthony lacks hardware, along with the favorable persona of a guy like Steve Nash, who has no ring but has nothing to prove either.

Not Anthony, though. He has a wealth of doubters to prove wrong.

After forcing his way to New York in not-so-subtle fashion, Anthony's 18-month tenure with the Knicks has been underwhelming, to say the least. He's continued to put points on the board, but his time in New York has been marred by injuries and a 1-8 postseason record.

Considering this is the guy the Knicks mortgaged their future on, allowed their coach to resign for and committed max money to, that's simply unacceptable. It's also why he has now become the most captivating, most polarizing player in the Association.

We may relish the opportunity to watch James lead the Heat to a second straight title, but we will be absolutely consumed with Anthony's quest for self-preservation, universal indulgence and basketball immortality.

This is it for 'Melo. He's in the city he pined for, alongside the expensive supporting cast he craved, within a system built for player like him. Now that James has a title, there's nothing—or rather, no one—for him to fall back on, not even Bosh. If he wants to be held in the same regard as an athlete like James, he must be held to the same standard as well.

James is fresh off a historic season, one for the record books, in fact. Now it's 'Melo's turn. He's on a seat now hotter than James'. Miami's championship changed everything for him—and according to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, he knows it:

[I]t was Anthony who pushed his way out of Denver. Who coveted Gotham City. Who vowed that his unwavering pursuit of fame and wealth would never usurp his commitment to bringing a championship back to Madison Square Garden.

Yet here we are two postseasons later and Anthony is home. Out in the first round for the eighth time in his nine-year career, watching his friends play instead of playing himself.

So it's only fair to ask if Anthony is ready.

To ask when Anthony's time to shine will arrive.

"It's fair," Anthony has told me on many occasions this past season. "I can't even deny that."

But can he deliver? Can he, like James, get that monkey suddenly turned gorilla off his back? Can he shed the label of an incompetent leader and championship cancer?

Or is he, unlike James, destined to fail, inevitably going to come up empty?

At some point, those 10 bare fingers of his were bound to be thrust under a microscope. With James bringing a title to South Beach, and 'Melo leading the Knicks to mediocrity, that time is now.

So, will he ultimately fail, or is he ready to take that next step, one that would officially put him among the likes of his good friend—and newly crowned NBA champion—James?

Though Anthony believes that his time is coming, no one, not even him, knows for sure. But what we are certain of is, win or lose, crash or burn, success or failure, we'll be watching him.

More closely than anyone else.


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