So, does Carmelo make that more likely? He’s certainly not the league’s most suffocating defender or fierce rebounder, and his spot-up game would be better complemented by a tougher presence underneath than Amar’e, who has turned into mostly a jump-shooter himself. But Carmelo is one of the most accomplished scorers in NBA history, and advanced statistical metrics consistently confirm what fans have known for years: When the score is tied in the final seconds, there’s no one in the game you want to have the ball more than Carmelo. The best part of his game, his ability to get off his own shot as time expires in a close contest, is his favorite part of his game. “It’s an adrenaline rush like nothing else,” he says. “It makes it even that much better because the opposing team knows who the ball is going to. They still can’t stop it. That’s the extra motivation.”
But is this a championship team? Right now? Probably not yet. “This is a long-term plan,” Carmelo says. “We’re trying to build a mansion here.” What he and Stoudemire promise—working off the LeBron blueprint again—is the allure of more, the enticement of two superstars in the biggest, best city in the world, combining with yet another superstar to produce the Biggest and Baddest of All Knicks Teams. The ideal candidate is Magic center Dwight Howard, who is unhappy in Orlando, a free agent after next year, and a close friend of Carmelo’s. (The two filmed a not-yet-released movie called Amazing last fall in China. Carmelo says the experience was fun, but not nearly as much fun as cross-dressing and playing in the “Laser Cats” sketch on SNL.) Another option is Chris Paul—who gave a toast at Carmelo’s wedding, and also talked about going to the Knicks with him and Amar’e. But Carmelo isn’t talking about that yet. He wants to get through the craziest season of his career first. “I’m going on a trip when this season is over,” he says. “Just decompress and think about what really just happened.”
“This is a long-term plan. We’re trying to build a mansion here.”
But there are still the playoffs, this year and in the future. I asked Carmelo if a championship would compare with winning the gold medal with Team USA (and LeBron and Dwyane Wade) at the Olympics three years ago. “Better. Way better,” he says. “Winning the championship here, for these fans, in this city, that would be amazing.” He pauses. “Man, can you imagine the parade?”
When Carmelo’s handlers asked if I’d be interested in coming with him to visit the Red Hook West housing projects in Brooklyn where he was born and lived until he was 8, I said yes, obviously, but with considerable skepticism. Much of this “Carmelo comes home!” story line that accompanied his arrival has seemed to be MSG hype. After all, he left when he was 8. What was he going to show me? Over here, I ate some candy. Over there, I watched some cartoons. Here, I skinned my knee.
It took about 30 seconds at the cracked, faded basketball court right next to the building where Anthony was raised for that skepticism to vanish. While Carmelo waited in an SUV as the photographers for this story set up their equipment, I watched as hundreds of Red Hook West residents converged upon the court. “The only time people come here is when something’s going on with Carmelo,” said 18-year-old Rock Harris, a resident of the housing project, explaining how everyone was tipped off.
The first person to walk up to me was Ramona Hernandez, 65, a short, round woman with wide eyes and a ripped T-shirt, brandishing a photo. “Look, look, that’s him,” she said. Hernandez was holding a kindergarten picture from P.S. 27, class K-136, 1989–90, that featured a tall, grinning kid in wide blue lapels already dwarfing his classmates. (Carmelo was a very cute kid.) “That girl right there is my niece. Do you think he would sign this for me? Can you ask him?” Right behind her was Harris, who had a laminated copy of a February Daily News story. The item was about Anthony’s journey from Red Hook to Baltimore and featured a picture of Harris and his friend Earl Miranda, who made sure to point out to me which guy was which in the picture. “They quoted me,” Miranda said, “because I’m better looking.”
Miranda was also quoted because he lives in Anthony’s old apartment. Right there, 79 Lorraine Street, Unit 1C, is where Carmelo spent the first eight years of his life, and where Miranda has spent his first nineteen. “We moved in when they moved out,” Miranda said. “I’m gonna try to get him to take a look at the place today. He’s never done that before.”