The Rio Olympics should change the perception of Carmelo Anthony
There's no way around it: Over the first decade of Carmelo Anthony's basketball career, he's been viewed by many in a negative light.
His isolation-heavy style of play inherently rubs people the wrong way -- even if he's among the best in the league at it. His critics will also cite things like how he spurned playoff contenders in free agency in favor of a more lucrative offer from the lowly Knicks, and how he's played in the All-Star Game despite injuries. There's also the fact that New York has won just a single playoff series since his arrival in 2011.
Dating back to 2008, though, international play has acted as a safe space for Anthony -- at least on the basketball court. The style of play, with a slightly shorter three-point distance and American superstars surrounding him, tailors directly to his strengths. It's how he dropped 37 points in a measly 14 minutes during a London game four years ago.
A testament to both this international success and his personal longevity: If and when Team USA takes home the gold in Rio, Anthony will be a three-time gold medalist -- something no men's basketball player has ever accomplished.
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Even over the last calendar year, in NBA play with the Knicks, Melo seems to have turned a corner when it comes to leadership, serving as a mentor for Kristaps Porzingis, who just turned 21 this week. Anthony also averaged a career-high in assists and posted his lowest usage rate since his sophomore season with Denver. To those who followed this closely, it was hard not to appreciate Anthony a bit more.
These personal developments come at an opportune time, as the 32-year-old is now the oldest player on coach Mike Krzyzewski's Olympic squad. With no LeBron James or Kobe Bryant around, this is very much Anthony's team to take charge of. Not that it should face many legitimate challenges over the course of the Games, but monitoring how he approaches his new role in Rio -- now similar to his role as a Knick -- will be interesting.
What's unequivocally more important than any contribution on a basketball court, though, is how Anthony has suddenly become the NBA's face when it comes to social issues.
In a league that does the best job at facing important issues head on, Anthony's willingness to lead the charge shows character traits infinitely better than any basketball stat ever could.
Last Christmas, Anthony was featured in a PSA for Everytown, advocating for gun violence awareness. In July, he used Instagram to express his thoughts after the killings of police officers at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas -- which the New York Daily News ran on a cover in its entirety.
On a bigger stage, at July's ESPY Awards, Anthony opened the show, alongside peers LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, with a call to both sides to end violence. Later that month, he held a town hall in Los Angeles that included youth, police officers, community leaders and Olympic athletes to help improve relationships between police and their communities.
This month in Rio, on an international stage, Anthony will have a chance to make an even bigger statement. John Carlos and Tommie Smith feel that he is poised to carry on their powerful 1968 message.
Anthony has weathered his fair share of criticism since going pro 13 years ago, but everything seems to have been building toward this point. On the world's biggest stage, he now finds himself a key leader -- not just in the basketball arena, but a far more important one.
- By John Dorn