LOS ANGELES — As they gathered around the locker room, Carmelo Anthony received numerous congratulatory messages and hugs. He then received the game ball for two reasons.
One, the Los Angeles Lakers finished with a 121-118 win against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday at Staples Center primarily because Anthony scored a team-high 28 points while shooting 10-of-15 from the field and 6-of-8 from 3-point range. Two, Anthony eclipsed Moses Malone for ninth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. As Anthony soaked in all the praise for scoring 27,423 points, suddenly the Lakers wanted him to contribute to the festivities.
“They wanted me to make a speech,” Anthony said, laughing. “But I was too tired.”
Anthony may have felt tired for numerous reasons.
He had just completed a game in which he scored 12 fourth-quarter points and made a handful of key defensive plays in crunch time. The Lakers improved to a 1-2 record after losing all six exhibitions and their first two regular-season games. And Anthony has just started his 19th season at 37 years old after having numerous stops with the Denver Nuggets (2003-11), New York Knicks (2011-17), Oklahoma City Thunder (2017-18), Houston Rockets (2018-19), Portland Trail Blazers (2019-21) and the Lakers (present).
“Scoring the basketball is not easy,” Anthony said. “We may make it look easy. But it’s not easy. For me, this is 19 years of repetition and night in and out, day in and day out, every summer, every season, I’m reaping those benefits right now because of the persistence that I have and my professionalism. What I bring to the game, how I approach the game. And I want to keep going. That’s all that matters to me.”
What also matters to Anthony: that his contributions lead to winning basketball.
He signed with the Lakers on a veteran’s minimum deal last summer in hopes of winning his first NBA championship, even if it would entail accepting a hybrid role as both a reserve and an occasional starter. Anthony had willingly played under similar circumstances the past two seasons in Portland, a far cry from when he became the primary option in Denver and New York. In the Lakers’ third regular-season game, however, Anthony played as if he was in his prime again despite playing 28 minutes off the bench.
“It’s just beautiful to continue to see,” Lakers star LeBron James said, “especially when you know they gave up on him.”
James hardly ever envisioned Anthony struggling to find his footing in the NBA.
Shortly after the two first played against each other as high school phenoms almost two decades ago, James remarked to friends that “I saw the best player that I’ve ever seen at that point.” The two crossed paths again when James and Anthony became the No. 1 and No. 3 pick, respectively, in the 2003 NBA Draft. After the New York Knicks dealt Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2017-18 season, however, Anthony admittedly struggled adjusting to a reduced role with Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
After the Thunder bought out Anthony’s contract, he joined the Rockets the following season only for them to waive him after 10 games. He then spent 1½ seasons as an unsigned free agent amid perception that he could not adapt to a more complementary role. Anthony soon proved otherwise with the Trail Blazers and the Lakers.
“He didn’t crawl up to that milestone. He blew the doors off of it,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of Anthony. “I’m super happy for him. He’s been a great culture fit with our group and obviously really playing at a high level on the floor. He has a lot left in the tank. He’s really going to help us this year.”
Anthony already did so in the Lakers’ third regular-season game.
Anthony ‘still passionate’ about scoring, winning
After giving the Lakers a 115-112 lead with 1:05 left after converting on a putback, Anthony blocked Ja Morant’s layup. He then rebounded Morant’s missed foul shot on his third attempt, while the Lakers held a 119-118 lead with 1.9 seconds remaining. Anthony then made two free throws to clinch the win.
Well before purple and gold streamers fell down Staples Center to celebrate the Lakers’ first regular-season win, Anthony experienced more theatrical moments. He surpassed Malone’s 27,409 points after making a 17-foot jumper to tie the game at 92 the 10:49 left in the fourth quarter. The sell-out crowd cheered suggesting they knew Anthony made history.
“It’s a blessing. To be on that list and pass Moses and what he did for the game of basketball, it’s hard to put into words,” Anthony said. “I’m still here doing it. That’s what I’m excited about that I’m here in year 19 still able to do what I do. I’m still passionate about the game. I’m still passionate about coming to work every day to get better. What better night to reach ninth with a win with a way we needed the win tonight.”
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 25, 2021
And what better way for Anthony to reach that milestone than the way the Lakers celebrated it.
After Anthony made back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Lakers a 100-94 cushion with 8:24 remaining, the Grizzlies called timeout. Then, Lakers public address announcer Lawrence Tanter announced Anthony’s milestone. During the ensuing cheers, James sat next to Anthony on the bench. After congratulating Anthony, James told him “how I’m proud of him.”
— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 25, 2021
Then, the Lakers’ game operations played a 90-second video that highlighted Anthony’s scoring outbursts during his entire career.
“For these fans to embrace me the way they are doing,” Anthony said. “I have to keep going. It keeps me motivated.”
Anthony currently trails Shaquille O’Neal (28,596 career points) by 1,174 points on the league’s all-time list, and it appears unlikely Anthony will surpass O’Neal given his role in the later stage of his career. Then again, Anthony has usually found ways to keep scoring.
Anthony hesitated sharing any of his main scoring influences, noting that “they all brought something to the game.” Only Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Karl Malone, James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Dirk Nowitzki, Wilt Chamberlain and O’Neal have scored more points than Anthony has.
Yet, James argued that “Melo’s game is unique in its own right.” James described Anthony as “one of the best iso guys we have in our league.” James also marveled at how Anthony used “quick twitch feet” to create separation as well as his shooting stroke.
“His shot is one of the most beautiful releases I’ve seen in NBA history,” James said. “I feel like it’s going in every single time.”
As an opposing coach up until this season, Vogel said he feared the same thing any time Anthony caught the ball because of his quick release. Anthony performed that job description primarily in the post for most of his career. But in recent seasons, Anthony has expanded his game beyond the 3-point line.
“The scoring instincts are still there,” Vogel said. “So when you throw the ball to him in the post, you feel like something good is going to happen. When he shot fakes and puts it on the deck, you feel like something good is going to happen. When he cuts to the basket, his shot fakes and his footwork, all of those instincts that the greatest scorers have are still there. That’s why we love what he brings to our team.”
And that is why the Lakers had hoped Anthony could give a speech to commemorate all his latest milestone. Anthony lacked the energy to say much, hoping the game would speak for itself.
“It means a lot. I’ve always been a fan of his and what’s been able to do,” Lakers forward Anthony Davis. “To do it with a franchise like the Lakers is huge for him. Coming in and doing what he’s doing in his 19th year, a couple of years ago nobody wanted him. He was kind of doubted. He stayed the course and stayed professional and got a shot in Portland and made a name for himself again. He’s here now doing the same thing, and picking up right where he left off. It’s an honor to have him on our team.”
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