Even when he was out of the game for nearly a year, Carmelo Anthony made an appearance at Madison Square Garden, sitting courtside for a game between the Knicks and the Miami Heat for his friend Dwyane Wade’s farewell appearance. And in street clothes, he still got a huge ovation from the Garden crowd.
But when he steps onto the floor Saturday afternoon, it will be an odd feeling, familiar and a homecoming of sorts, but without a fan in the building. Though players may have grown accustomed to that this season, as most arenas still are empty, for Anthony and the Garden, it just seems wrong.
"It’s weird, man, to be honest," he said. "Not just here in New York but the whole situation that we’re in coming to arenas. We miss the fans, to be honest with you. We miss that joy. We miss the noise. We miss the yelling, we miss the cheering, the booing. It’s just all of that we miss. So it’s something, not just myself, I think the whole league misses that. We can’t wait to get the fans back. I wish I came back here with the actual fans here, but I’m sure I’ll get another chance."
That might have seemed a long shot when he was sitting courtside in 2019, unable to find a team willing to sign him after he moved on from New York to Oklahoma City and then a brief, odd parting in Houston. But he got a chance on an injury-depleted Portland squad last season and he was back at the Garden on New Year’s Day in 2020, scoring 26 points. Now, after a brief flirtation with a return to the Knicks, he returns again as a key piece for the Trail Blazers.
Rather than rehash old wounds and how his career nearly ended in Houston, Anthony praised the fit he has found in Portland.
As far as his odd battles with Phil Jackson in New York are concerned, time has not changed his take.
"It was different. Especially me having to deal with it day to day and just accepting it," he said. "Never complaining, it was what it was, right? And my only thing just to come in and be a professional and be there for my teammates. And that was it. And just play ball. And I feel like that helped me out a lot, that I was able to still get on the court and block everything out, play basketball. Bring my teammates along with me and still try to figure out a way to find joy in that, and in that eye of the storm."
Now, as an elder statesman, he sees a next wave in New York, effusively praising the job that Tom Thibodeau has done with the team and also complimenting the potential of a fellow Brooklyn product, Obi Toppin.
"He came to my Black Ops [pickup games] one time," Anthony said. "I think he was still at Dayton when he came and played in the runs. He was impressive in the runs. Guys were talking about him, trying to figure out who it was. And then when you watch him throughout that next year at Dayton, just what he did, then we really put everything together: OK, this makes sense.
"But once I knew he was going to be [among the] top picks, this was a place that I feel like needed him, meaning New York, a great situation for him. Hometown guy. But also just the way that he plays and what he brings to the game. Once he starts to fully develop, I think this city will be happy."