11:05 am Aug. 1, 2012
As Carmelo Anthony and his N.B.A.-superstar teammates roll through the 2012 Olympics—the beat Tuesday's victim, Tunisia, 110-63—it is remarkable how much of Anthony's story is still to be written, given how long he's been in the public consciousness.
It is now nearly a decade since Anthony, as a freshman, led Syracuse to an N.C.A.A. title. Yet so much of his story in the intervening decade since consists of negative space.
Anthony did not win a playoff series until 2009, and has yet to win another one. He receives criticism for failing to pass, for not figuring out how to share the ball with Amar'e Stoudemire in New York, for his admittedly lax defensive effort under previous Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni.
For a player about to enter his tenth N.B.A. season, and is one of only three players ever to participate in three separate Olympics, it is fascinating to see how little of his resume is filled in. By his tenth season, Kobe Bryant had won three N.B.A. titles and posted a host of signature games. LeBron James, criticized in similar terms as Anthony until winning the N.B.A. title this past season, nevertheless had two other Eastern Conference titles under his belt, and games like the Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Detroit Pistons in 2007, when he scored the final 25 points for Cleveland, and 48 points overall.
If it's going to happen for Anthony, it has to start now. And yet he's ball-hogged his way into a corner: If he takes over a game offensively, he's being selfish. If he doesn't, he isn't an elite player.
Happily, his 16-point effort against Tunisia played against type, somewhat. Anthony wasn't the starter outhustled by hungrier bench players; he wasn't even starting for U.S.A. Instead, after Tunisia raced out to an unlikely 15-12 lead, Anthony was part of a bench substitution that came on and took over. He went a perfect 6-for-6, finding his shots in the rhythm of an offense ironically designed by D'Antoni, a U.S.A. assistant, and his defensive pressure helped turn the game as well.
Anthony is a gifted passer, and a capable defender, and has blended in impeccably on Team U.S.A. He even drew praise from the staff for coming in 12 pounds lighter than he'd been during the N.B.A. season. (Although this revelation carries with it its own negative space: Why did Anthony, after an N.B.A. season, have 12 pounds to lose?)
This really serves as a dress rehearsal for his moments to come with the Knicks. He gets to fill in his own biography, playing for the team he insisted Denver trade him to, under a coach he helped get promoted and then retained, surrounded by teammates brought in largely to maximize Anthony's own prime seasons.
It will be up to him whether he reinforces the assumptions about his game based on his team's limitations to date, or if he makes the most of a situation he tailored himself.