Behold the man in his element: back to the basket at the right elbow, ball held high, roughly 17 feet away. It's a sight embedded deep in the culture, as instantly recognizable as a logo for a national brand. To see him there, in person, is like visiting a famous landmark, a place to pay respect to a different time. You know who it is without the name. You can see it. I know you can. Ball held textbook-tight and chin-high, leaning back into the defender as if pondering the wisdom of a trust fall -- it is equal parts iconic and divisive. Millions of words have been devoted to analyzing it. Data has discredited it. The sport he plays has almost entirely abandoned it. It is inefficient and stagnant and antithetical to the team concept. More than that, it's no longer cool. Everyone wants to be Steph and KD and James, to hit 3s and fire their bodies to the hoop and create art from chaos. Nobody wants to back someone down and go to work. Nobody wants all that trouble. But think about this: If he stands out there at the 3-point line, waits for a pass and hits a wide-open shot, nobody really feels it, you know? And if his man gets washing-machined in a pick-and-roll and he happens to find himself alone at the hoop with the ball, the only thing he's proved is that he can run a play. It's test-tube basketball, calibrated to three places right of the decimal. But this post-up iso thing, man, just him and a defender? That's some zero-sum business out there on that elbow: one winner, one loser. Pure. Separate the man from the art. Forget the perceived selfishness, the supposed stats-and-money fetish, the alleged view of winning as a tertiary (at best) concern. Instead, just watch him use the ball as a weapon, stabbing it toward the defender's face, whipping it close enough to scrape the floor, swinging it like a sword. This is what you get if you come any closer. And the jab steps: over and over, a high-speed tic, as if his feet are trying to keep time with a drum solo. Imagine finding yourself out there on that elbow, roughly 17 feet away, feeling like an extra in a historical reenactment. Just when you think he can't possibly give you one more ball fake, he gives you three. He might turn and face you; he might not. It's striking in its peculiarity. And then he rises to shoot, his feet scissored slightly in front of him, his body angled in a way that makes your late jump to block it look obligatory at best, pitiable at worst. The problem -- backed by evidence both empirical and aesthetic, espoused by everyone from the lowest-level intern to the MIT-educated general manager -- is simple: This is not good basketball. Outside the pinpoint focus of that elbow, nothing is happening anywhere else on the floor. Everyone waits as the man ritually violates the game's new commandments: constant movement that creates layups, 3s and drives to the hoop that draw fouls. The non-paint 2 -- the midrange shot that has accounted for most of his 25,115 career points -- has become the game's vilest epithet. The world has moved on, and he's trying to move with it. Lord knows he's trying. But for 15 years, Carmelo Anthony has tied his worth to what he can create from this one spot. It has given him 10 All-Star appearances and a scoring title and a cosmopolitan lifestyle that comes with nearly $250 million in career earnings. He drinks only the best wine and smokes only the best cigars and is close enough with Barack Obama that the two of them are in the process of finalizing Anthony's future role in the Obama Foundation. It has also created divisions on teams, serial conflicts with coaches and none of the postseason success that his talent seemed to portend when he left Syracuse in 2003 after one championship season.
The reinvention of Carmelo Anthony
ESPN | Feb 23