Sometimes perceived as a diva in the NBA, the Knicks superstar enters his record fourth Olympics as the ultimate team player
POSTED: Jul 19, 2016 3:20 PM ET
Carmelo Anthony won gold medals with the U.S. Olympic team in 2008 and 2012, as well as a bronze medal in 2004.
LAS VEGAS — LeBron James isn't here. Chris Paul isn't here. Ditto for Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook, not to mention James Harden, Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond and Steph Curry. Fact is, you could craft a gold medal-worthy roster out of the NBA stars who tapped out from participating with USA Basketball this summer for what, eventually, will be the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Carmelo Anthony is here, however. Same as always.
Couldn't hold it without him, or so it seems. It's as if the New York Knicks veteran scorer were one of those interlocking Olympic rings, the five of them falling apart if he didn't show up every four years. If NBA players had walk-up songs like major league batters do, Anthony would be within his rights to use the famous Olympic fanfare (Leo Arnaud's "The Bugler's Dream," to be precise).
Anthony, who practiced along with the other Team USA and USA Select members at UNLV facilities on the first day of this week's training camp, is on the brink of officially becoming the first U.S. men's basketball player to appear in four Olympics. And if Team USA is as successful as it hopes to be -- and the oddsmakers expect it to be -- he will take home his third gold medal next month in Brazil. He also was part of the squads that earned gold in 2012 (London) and 2008 (Beijing), as well as a bronze in 2004 (Athens).
Actually, if you factor in all the FIBA qualifying tournaments, junior world championships and the 2001 youth development festival, Anthony has six medals in all. He has played on 12 USA Basketball teams, appearing in 72 games and averaging 15.3 points and 4.0 rebounds across the lot of them.
In terms of U.S. Olympic records, Anthony ranks No. 1 for 3-pointers made (39) and attempted (94). He is second in shots taken (188), third in games played (23), fourth in total points (239 and fourth in total rebounds (83). This summer, if he adds at least 36 shots, two appearances, 35 points and 42 rebounds, he'll move to the top in those categories too.
It would have been easy, maybe even expected, for Anthony to beg off another tour of duty. James, Paul and Wade in particular are his tightest buddies in the league -- the crew that took the stage in tuxedos at the recent ESPY awards in Los Angeles to speak against gun violence -- and they're the ones he most often has checked himself against in moving through their NBA careers.
A lot of people told me "Don't do it. Don't do it. For what?" I actually enjoy it. I've been part of USA basketball since I was a junior or senior in high school. I actually enjoy it.
– Carmelo Anthony on his decision to play on the U.S. basketball team in the Rio Olympics
But those guys played on teams that made it to the postseason again and routinely go deep. Anthony has missed the playoffs for two years running now. Some of the competitive itches his friends have scratched, he's still trying to reach.
"It was a difficult decision to make," Anthony said of the USA commitment. "Due to all the things that's going on over there [in Brazil]. Due to guys dropping out. Guys not playing. Guys that, we was kind of used to playing with each other.
"A lot of people told me 'Don't do it. Don't do it. For what?' I actually enjoy it. I've been part of USA basketball since I was a junior or senior in high school. I actually enjoy it."
Now Anthony is the U.S. squad's resident old head. At 32, he's two years older than Kyle Lowry and four years older than DeAndre Jordan (who will turn 28 Thursday), with the rest of the roster 27 or younger. He and Kevin Durant will be looked to as leaders, a role for which Anthony said he's ready.
"It's a new a new batch of guys," he said. "I get a chance to go out there and kind of be the leader of the team. Lead these guys and kind of enjoy it. For me, it's about going over there and having fun. Getting that fun feeling back, getting enjoyment back.
"And it's time to get another gold medal."
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's not fast-forward past that other objective. Anthony hasn't had all that much fun lately playing basketball, with the Knicks losing 115 games over the past two seasons. They've been particularly bad since he passed up a chance to join the Chicago Bulls in the summer of 2014, opting for maximum money over the prospect of extending Chicago's -- and his -- championship window.
It's a decision over which he has taken plenty of grief. So Team USA represents a completely different atmosphere and attitude for him.
"It's obviously better than his last couple of years in the NBA," said Jim Boeheim, Anthony's coach at Syracuse University and an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski on the national team. "I thought it would be good for him. So I pushed him on it. We're really glad that he came."
Said USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo: "I think he loves the game. He's been a very effective national player. So he's had a lot of success being with us. It also shows a lot of leadership on his part that he wants to be the first guy to play in that many Olympics. We're very happy to have him."
Frankly, Anthony has been a better player for Team USA than he has been for the Denver Nuggets or the New York Knicks. And his reputation as an Olympian is far shinier, free of negatives that have tarnished him a bit in the NBA.
It goes beyond the stats but it does start there. Comparing scoring totals from the NBA and international play is apples-and-oranges stuff. But know that Anthony has career shooting percentages of 51.9 percent, 42.7 percent on 3-pointers and 74.7 percent from the line.
Different roles for everybody. Different team, different situations. I don't think we as individuals have to do as much as we have to do on our own respective teams.
– Carmelo Anthony on the difference between his NBA and international competition stats
In NBA play? His "slash" line is .453/.344/.812. He also has produced, over his 13-season pro career, an average of 1.272 points per field goal attempt.
For Team USA, it's 1.453 points per FGA.
"Different roles for everybody. Different team, different situations," Anthony said of the contrast between his NBA self and "international Melo." "I don't think we as individuals have to do as much as we have to do on our own respective teams. I think that's why guys like playing on the USA team -- they don't have to do much. They can just go out, have a role, just play the game and rely on the best players in the world."
Anthony is responsible for the highest-scoring game in U.S. men's Olympic history, blistering Nigeria for 37 points in the 2012 Games. But it's an outlier; in his other 71 games, he has averaged 14.9 ppg.
For three consecutive Olympics, Anthony has been a facilitator, a sixth man (41 starts, 31 appearances in reserve) and a player whose versatility allows him to play multiple roles at multiple positions. With the Knicks, he is considered a scorer, a volume shooter and a ball dominator.
With Team USA, Anthony's leadership and commitment to the goal simultaneously benefits from and helps to create the camaraderie of the sport's most elite team. With the Knicks, he often is portrayed as a diva, a prima donna and a guy to whom winning doesn't matter as much as money.
"With the Knicks, he's got to score. He's got to score a lot," Boeheim said. "Here he's a team player. He's willing to come off the bench for us, he doesn't care. He's got a lot of good guys with him. I like to see him here."
Boeheim sees Anthony as sagging under the weight of losing in New York, rather than contributing to it. "He was a good leader for us when he was just a freshman," the Syracuse coach said. "It gets overlooked because they've been losing and that's what you do when you're losing. But I've never seen a player who that played against him or with him that didn't like him."
Said Colangelo: "In our structure, playing the international game, he gets a lot of easy shots. Shots that are like free throws to him. He understands that. It's a good feeling when you're playing, to know you're going to have success."
Anthony sees success in his short- and long-term futures. He'll finally get to play with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah after all, now that the two former Bulls are under contract to the Knicks. He said Monday he expects New York to make the playoffs next spring.
But first things first. If Anthony can't get a ring, he certainly can get another medal.
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