He was at the Garden in the morning, when it was still and the buzz was merely a reverberation of the lights that shone down over the stage he was about to take. And it still hadn't sunk in yet.
"I still felt like a visiting player,'' Carmelo Anthony said.
But his image on the famed Seventh Avenue marquee was not just a welcome to a new team, it was a welcome home. And when he ran through the tunnel amid a raucous ovation, wearing blue and orange and sporting a new number, 7, and took the stage in prime time for last night's 114-108 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, it finally sank in.
"It's a dream come true for myself,'' Anthony said. "I'm ready to get down to business.''
Business was good. Anthony scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in his Knicks debut, including a game-clinching jumper with 26.8 seconds left that gave the Knicks a 108-102 lead and ensured the Bucks wouldn't spoil his night. Amid a chorus of "Me-lo, Me-lo,'' he stepped to the line and drained two free throws to give the Knicks a 112-106 advantage.
Amar'e Stoudemire, who now shares the stage he has owned all season, was almost an afterthought for most of the night, as his touches were limited with Anthony (25 field-goal attempts to 13 for Stoudemire) on the floor. Plus he was hit with some early foul trouble.
Stoudemire finished with 19 points. fouled out with 1:01 left and picked up his league-leading 15th technical foul as he roared his displeasure. Stoudemire's next technical will result in an automatic one-game suspension.
Chauncey Billups had 21 points and eight assists in his Knicks debut and also heard a chorus of "Chauncey Billups!'' Toney Douglas had 23 points off the bench for the Knicks (29-26), who have won three straight.
John Salmons had 27 points for the Bucks (22-35).
On the day Anthony was officially introduced and joined Stoudemire to form one of the most lethal offensive tandems in the NBA, Anthony talked about defense. What? No really, defense.
"Defensively, I really want to focus in on that at the end of the day,'' Anthony said. "I think that's one thing that takes a lot of effort. If we can get everybody to buy into that, the challenge, we'll be good to go.''
Defense is going to be a major question for this team, especially with a lineup that doesn't have any players taller than 6-10.
"We all know this is a high- power offense, we know that we can score 120 points a game if we really wanted to,'' Anthony said. "But that's not going to win games at the end of the season.''
Even the offense is a work in progress. With no time to practice before last night's game, coach Mike D'Antoni said he installed "four or five plays'' during the pregame walk-through and said they would be "playing like an All-Star Game almost."
And that's what makes the addition of Billups so important. The veteran point guard, a former NBA Finals MVP, has been overshadowed by the magnitude of Anthony's arrival, but his presence is critical. And while Anthony may have longed for New York, the 34-year-old Billups was crushed to have to leave his hometown of Denver, where his wife and three daughters will remain for the remainder of the season. But Billups sees opportunity here in the latter stages of his prime.
"I'm excited about this challenge,'' said Billups, who later added, "we came here with a lot of very high expectations.''
So did the 19,763 fans who packed the Garden. Tickets were reselling on the secondary market at huge markups. Fans were even packed outside under the marquee, soliciting those stepping out into the February evening air at halftime for their ticket stubs so they could see the second half.
And then there was the image of Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe standing together during the halftime "Legends Night'' ceremonies - so that's what Stoudemire means by "immortal swag'' - as a reminder of how two stars can come together and coexist to create something special. It is also a reminder of how long it has been since this franchise not only raised a banner, but lifted a city.
"New York needed a moment like this,'' Anthony said. "Like Amar'e said, 'New York basketball is back.' ''