4:45 pm Aug. 6, 2012
If Carmelo Anthony's public pleas to Knicks management to keep Jeremy Lin sounded to you like damage control, after he called Houston's three-year, $25.1 million offer to Lin "ridiculous," his latest comments aren't likely to change your mind.
"Let's be frank about it," Anthony told USA Today, when asked about his reputation as a selfish player. "When it comes to the Knicks, we're talking about one particular point in time. We're talking about the whole 'Linsanity' thing. That's when it started. That's when it started to escalate as far as people saying I was selfish. Lin came and we started winning games and then we started losing games, and they could only point to one thing, which is me, the leader of the team. They're not going to point to Amar'e. They're not going to point to (guard) Iman Shumpert. They're going to point to me. I accept that. It doesn't bother me."
Leaving aside the reality that it bothers Anthony sufficiently that he's identified in his mind exactly when and why it has happened, there's the stubborn reality to contend with: Jeremy Lin isn't remotely the reason that Carmelo Anthony is considered a selfish player, nor is Linsanity to blame for that reputation. Google makes this case pretty convincingly.
From February 4, 2012 through August 6, 2012, a Google News search for "Carmelo Anthony selfish" turns up 1,380 results. Most of these are recent, within the past few days, and come from Anthony's comments themselves. In the previous year, "Carmelo Anthony selfish" turns up just 33 results. From 2009-2011, there were 94 results in Google News, including results from The Washington Post, ESPN, NPR and the town that knew him best, the Denver Post. Anthony as selfish player was hardly a secret.
But the nature of Anthony's selfishness on the court, most often described as "ball stopping," was even more prevalent. Certainly, the Google News results for "Carmelo Anthony ball stopper" has spiked since Linsanity, with 3,970 articles including those words as the world tried to figure out whether and how well Anthony and Lin would mesh.
But in the calendar year leading up to Linsanity on February 4, 2011, the term was found in 73 articles. Here's Pro Basketball Prospectus 2011-12, for instance, describing Anthony's offensive game:
"Can Anthony be the best player on a championship team? The answer to that question is murky. At some point, he’s going to have to show a consistent ability to lift the performance of his teammates, and he needs to do that with passing and by being less of a ball stopper."
Nor was this a particularly new diagnosis for the gifted passer who has never accumulated four assists per game in any season. The term turns up 102 results in 2010, 90 in 2009, 90 in 2008, 85 in 2007, 97 in 2006, 60 in 2005, 104 in 2004. Jeremy Lin celebrated his 16th birthday in 2004, and it is impossible to know what effect that had on Carmelo Anthony's reputation.
He's described in ESPN's "The Disposable Superstar" this way, as viewed back in 2008: "A.I., Anthony and Marcus Camby are all 'ball stoppers,' meaning they rarely pass."
Or as Jim Boeheim, his coach in 2003 when Anthony and Syracuse won the N.C.A.A. championship, a tournament in which Anthony led his team in shots taken and put up assist totals of 1, 2, 3, 1 and 1 in the first five games while taking the most shots on the team by far, put it, "He gets criticized for what he does, and that’s being an offensive machine. I’m tired of reading it. He doesn’t play like LeBron James. He can pass, but he’s a scorer. He’s an offensive force. That’s what he does."
Anthony played like James in his final game for Boeheim, scoring 20, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out seven assists. He's quite capable of playing team basketball.
But he often chooses not to. And people have been noticing since around the time Jeremy Lin was going into junior high.