LAS VEGAS — They aren't compared so much anymore.
Back in a more innocent time, though, no one knew whether Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James would be the bigger winner.
Anthony smiled warmly Wednesday after USA Basketball minicamp practice as he recounted the original budding of his friendship with James—back when it was James, the junior, who approached Anthony, the senior, in a New Jersey hotel lobby after Anthony's Virginia team had beaten James' Ohio team in a prep showcase.
"We sat on the steps till two or three in the morning," Anthony said, smiling. "That's how we met."
Anthony would be a national champion within a year as a freshman at Syracuse—an awfully good start. Much has changed since, with James appearing in the NBA Finals six times, winning twice, while Anthony's teams have mostly struggled in the playoffs.
USA Basketball is where Anthony gets to return to level ground with his friend. The only player besides Anthony and James to be a U.S. basketball Olympian three times is David Robinson.
Anthony and James, however, are in line to appear again next year in Rio and get their third gold medals.
It was no surprise to see Anthony, James and their good buddy Chris Paul—who won those two gold medals with them in 2008 and '12—shoulder to shoulder to shoulder in pre-practice running drills Wednesday after James joined the two-day camp a day late.
It's over in the non-alternate reality known as the NBA where Anthony can't compete.
Paul still hasn't reached the conference finals in his career, but he is again championship-relevant, with the Los Angeles Clippers having held on to free agent DeAndre Jordan and improved elsewhere.
"My team's solidified," Paul said.
James likewise succeeded in making nice with Kevin Love and stands as a title favorite once again with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It's a time when one might assume—or even endorse—Anthony being a squeaky third wheel here.
The eight-time All-Star could complain that the New York Knicks are even deeper in rebuilding mode a year after he, now 31, re-signed with them and missed the playoffs for just the second time in his career.
Instead, this week in Vegas, he was what he should be—a little disappointed, but overall accepting of the flow.
He wasn't raving about Knicks president Phil Jackson but was clear in stating the two of them share an understanding. Anthony wasn't too high or too low, too fake or too real.
He directly disputed "false" reports that he disapproved of Jackson's efforts or draft pick Kristaps Porzingis' arrival.
"Nobody talked to me," Anthony said. "Nobody heard me say anything as far as me being unhappy. Life is too good to be unhappy."
And with that last line, Melo shifted back to a mellower baseline.
In that, it was impossible not to see the possibility that Jackson might actually be influencing him in the same way he did Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
Not so much teaching how to become an NBA winner, but establishing a basic Zen culture where you try to do what's right in the moment.
It's how Jordan and Bryant, whose respective attitudes were anchored in even more stubbornness than Anthony showed early in his career, cleared their minds and positioned themselves for late-career championships to come to them.
Whether it turns out to be too late for Anthony to win an NBA title is out of his control right now.
All he can do is be physically sounder after a season in which his knee began hurting on opening night and mentally stronger as this summer calm indicates. It can only help that Knicks coach Derek Fisher has been a supportive presence near Anthony at these USA Basketball sessions.
There is logic to the free-agent consolation prizes Jackson brought to Fisher and Anthony.
The sparkle in Jackson's eye is his dream of the Knicks becoming a team's team. The NBA is often dictated by the guys who can be a man's man, taking over individually the way Anthony is well-equipped to do. But the winning teams have a way of working together.
Jackson has now jettisoned every single one of Anthony's prior teammates and his previous head coach within the past 18 months. He's in search of a higher level of professionalism that Anthony can count on, guys with useful skills, such as Robin Lopez's defense, and a workmanlike mentality, such as Arron Afflalo's steadiness, to help the one star shine.
"The guys that we brought in are great pieces to have on the team," Anthony said.
That might sound like offhand, generic praise—except Anthony has an explanation why it makes sense.
"They all know their roles. They know what they have to do," Anthony continued. "It's just a matter of us coming together."
No question DeAndre's talent or LaMarcus Aldridge's skill coming to the Knicks would've given Anthony a greater chance to tell fresh playoff stories of his own on the next Bahamas vacation with James, Paul and Dwyane Wade.
Yet Jackson failing in free agency actually makes for more of a test whether Anthony is absorbing his teachings.
All Anthony really can do is be better in the now for himself and his team. Then you leave it to the mythical forces that Jackson likes to call "the basketball gods."
That means to say that if you bring a pure, healthy spirit to the game—same as in life—you at least open doors instead of close them.
On that front for Anthony...so far, so good.
Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing