Carmelo Anthony sat on the visiting bench, hoodie on, head down, as a tribute video showing some of his best moments as a Knick aired high above the Madison Square Garden floor. The nearly one-minute montage before he was introduced ended with the words “Thank You, Melo.”
It was a nice gesture, the right move and a smart one by the Knicks to welcome back Anthony with open arms in his Garden return Saturday night.
The night didn’t end well for Anthony, though. He scored 12 points, missed his last eight shots and was scoreless in the second half as the Knicks rolled to a 111-96 win over the Thunder. But Anthony seemed genuinely touched by the video.
He said he was very surprised by it and thanked the Knicks, president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry for the gesture. “That was big time, and for me, that goes a long way,” Anthony said. “Very much appreciated.”
It was big time for the Knicks and could go a long way for them as well as they continue to try to repair their reputation after former president Phil Jackson tarnished it.
Players throughout the league saw how Anthony — the face of the Knicks for 6 1⁄2 years — and to a lesser extent Kristaps Porzingis were treated last season.
Porzingis could become a draw for other free agents to sign with the Knicks. To be able to attract marquee players, though, the Knicks need to show them that they will treat their own in a first-class way.
Some of that was lost during the Jackson years. Mills and Perry recognize that, and this was another step toward removing the tarnish.
Anthony was traded to the Thunder a few days before training camp for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and the Bulls’ second-round pick. Anthony waived his no-trade clause to join Russell Westbrook and Paul George in Oklahoma City.
After spending Friday night at his place, he was back in very familiar surroundings Saturday night.
A visitor for the first time since 2010 with the Nuggets, Anthony was cheered during introductions. Then he was booed when he touched the ball and when he left the game in the closing seconds.
“The boos were expected,” Anthony said. “They can’t cheer for me. I’m on another team.”
Anthony looked as if he would have a big night when he knocked down his first shot of the game — a three-pointer — and three of his first four. But he disappeared quickly and appeared gassed after Friday night’s triple-OT win in Philadelphia. “We wanted this one,” said Anthony, who shot 5-for-18.
He received a loud ovation, and some fans stood and cheered during and after the video tribute. He said it was “a bittersweet feeling” because it was a reminder that he fell short of his goal to lead the Knicks to a championship.
It’s fair to wonder or even question whether Anthony would have gotten one if Jackson still were the Knicks’ president. “I try not to think about that,” he said. “I put that chapter behind me.”
Anthony said he was happy to see his old teammates “having fun again, knowing the fun was lost over the past couple of seasons.” That shot was directed at the Knicks’ former president.
The Knicks have played better than expected without Anthony. But in the lead-up to this game, some Knicks said they would have been playing the same style of fast, entertaining ball if he still were on the team.
Anthony agreed and said he talked about it during summer workouts with some players, but too much had happened.
“The damage was done at that point,” he said. “It was just right, better for both parties to split that way.”
Anthony deserved to be cheered Saturday night. He didn’t request a trade or leave in free agency like so many of his closest friends and contemporaries — LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George and Kyrie Irving.
Jackson laid the groundwork for Anthony’s exit. Their new regime is trying to build a stronger foundation.