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There ought to be a special wing reserved, whenever they build a New York Sports Hall of Fame, for this category:
The Guys Who Said Yes.
We can name that wing after Joe Namath, because he was the first athlete with options who steered his ship to New York. Namath could have played with the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals, who drafted him, and in truth he could have printed his ticket to any AFL destination of his choosing, including pass-happy, sun-drenched San Diego.
He picked the bright lights instead. He picked New York. He had options, and he picked here.
Reggie Jackson picked here. He chose New York. In those early days of free agency, Jackson was selected by 13 teams in the “re-entry” draft, and a lot of those teams offered greater riches than the five-year, $2.9 million package he accepted from the Yankees. But those other teams played elsewhere. Reggie wanted New York, and Reggie got New York, all of it: the boos and the derision, the cheers and acclaim.
“If you were me,” Reggie told me a few spring trainings ago, “you had to give it a go in New York. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I’d talked myself out of going to New York, even though I knew it wasn’t always going to be sunshine and roses for me.”
Carmelo Anthony picked here. He wanted New York. He wanted the Knicks. He wanted the Garden. And he got every element of New York, same as Reggie did three decades earlier. When the Knicks struggled, Anthony heard about it plenty. When they had that one-year renaissance in 2012-13, winning 54 games and the only playoff series win since 2000, every night was filled with chants.
“M-V-P!” they clamored. Every game.
“M-V-P!” they thundered. Every night.
“M-V-P!” they roared. Every. Single. Night.
“If you don’t get goose bumps when people show you that kind of love,” Anthony said on the eve of the 2013 playoffs, “then there’s something wrong with you.”
But things soured for the Knicks, and so they soured for their franchise face, their franchise icon, their franchise superstar. Even now, Anthony remains a lightning rod, a dividing line between hero and villain, Knicks fans equally split between the camps. And even now, after all of that, Anthony buys into the better angels of this city.
“I don’t think the bond between myself and New York City will ever go anywhere,” Anthony said on a Zoom call Monday. “That’s why I embrace it the way I do.”
Anthony was back home Tuesday night, in a city where he still maintains a residence and where he says he always will. He came in the detestable vestments of the Lakers, having picked L.A. over the Knicks (among others) last offseason because he wanted to take a legit run at a championship and it seemed the Lakers were farther along in that process.
And they still might be, despite the 9-9 mark they brought to the Garden for a game they had to play without Anthony’s pal, LeBron James, suspended a game for the melee in Detroit over the weekend.
Anthony? He has kept up the late-career rejuvenation that began the past few years in Portland, where he became a popular member of the Blazers, an elder statesman who showed he still had some game. As the Lakers’ sixth man, he has, stunningly, been their best player on a lot of nights, averaging 15.2 points, shooting a scorching 46.1 percent from 3-point range.
“I’m doing what I love to do,’’ he said. “Adapting to the situation, surroundings, being wiser. Understanding what your team needs. They look forward to me bringing scoring, shooting and another leader on this team.’’
Not so long ago, he was the leader of the Knicks and, most important, he did so happily, voluntarily. He wanted New York. In recent years, in all sports, it has been rarer and rarer to see that, to see athletes with options pick New York instead of one of the sunnier destinations of Florida, Arizona or California, or a tax haven like Texas.
He wanted New York, and he got to taste all of it. Put him in the Namath Wing. Give him his own wall.