It’s a bittersweet homecoming for Carmelo Anthony…
The 33-year-old Puerto Rican professional basketball player received a mostly warm welcome from New York Knicks fans Saturday night in his first game at Madison Square Garden since joining the Oklahoma City Thunder.
There were loud cheers for Anthony during his introduction, and some noticeable boos.
The Knicks played a tribute video for Anthony before his name was called during the traditional starting lineup introductions. The video showed some of the big shots and highlight games during Anthony’s 6½ seasons in New York and was met with a loud ovation from the Madison Square Garden crowd.
Anthony said he was surprised by the video and thanked the organization for the gesture.
“That was big-time, and for me that goes a long way,” Anthony said, who admitted the clip brought a mixed bag of emotions as it reminded him of the Knicks’ shortcomings during his tenure.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling for me — coming back here, knowing the goals that I had, what I wanted to accomplish here and falling short in that category,” he said.
Anthony, playing the second night of a back-to-back after logging 47 minutes against the Philadelphia 76ers, was held to 12 points on 5-of-18 shooting Saturday. He went scoreless in the second half, and the Knicks spoiled his return by topping the Thunder 111-96.
The 10-time NBA All-Star was booed throughout the game when he touched the ball and when he subbed out of the game near the end of regulation. He said afterward that he wasn’t surprised by the reaction.
“They can’t cheer for me. I’m on another team,” Anthony said. “They’re cheering for their team. They boo for the other team. That’s something that I expected.”
During Anthony’s tenure in New York, the Knicks advanced past the first round of the playoffs just once and failed to reach the postseason the past four seasons. Teammates have credited Anthony for how he handled the off-court drama of trade speculation and critiques — both direct and indirect — delivered by former Knicks president Phil Jackson throughout the 2016-17 season.
Anthony declined to say whether his return would have felt different if Jackson were still in New York, saying he has put his issues with Jackson behind him.
“I try not to think about that,” Anthony said.
Anthony was dealt to the Thunder in late September in exchange for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott, ending months of drama with the Knicks that began when Jackson publicly stated his desire to trade the All-Star forward. With a list narrowed down to only a few teams, Anthony waived his no-trade clause to accept a deal to the Thunder.
After Saturday’s loss, he spoke about how he wanted to be remembered as a Knick.
“Somebody who wanted to be here, came here, did what he had to do night in and night out whether people liked it or not, remained positive through all the negative situations and all the negative times,” Anthony said. “Somebody who stayed professional throughout my seven years here and somebody who had hopes and dreams of winning the championship here in New York and fell short at that.
“So that’s something that I will always hold over my head as far as it comes to that. But I will always be kind of part of this culture here. For me it’s different than any other basketball player that comes through here, that played with the Knicks. It’s deeper than basketball when it comes to me and this city.”
The Knicks (16-13) have exceeded expectations in their first season without Anthony. They have relied on ball movement and a solid approach to team defense in the first two months of the season. New York entered Friday ranked 15th in defensive efficiency (up from 25th last season) and 11th in assist ratio (up from 23rd).
“I like what I see,” Anthony said of the Knicks’ potential going forward. “I like the potential they have. For me, to see those guys having fun again, knowing it wasn’t fun, to see them having fun bringing the energy and love back to the Garden. I’m happy for those guys when it comes to that.”