Whenever they make the New York Sports Hall of Fame for this category, reserve a special section:
The boys who said yes.
We can name that wing after Joe Namath, because he was the first athlete to have his ship shipped to New York. Namath could have played with the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals, he drafted them, and in fact he could have printed his ticket to any AFL destination he chose, including San Diego, a pass-happy, sunburned.
Instead they opted for bright lights. He chose New York. They had choices, and they made choices here.
Reggie Jackson is the pick here. He chose New York. In those early days of free agency, Jackson was selected by 13 teams in the “re-entry” draft, and most of those teams offered more than a five-year, $ 2.9 million package received from the Yankees. But those other teams played elsewhere. Reggie wanted New York, and Reggie got New York, all of them: boos and mocking, cheers and admiration.
“If you were me,” Reggie told me behind some spring training, “you had to give it up in New York. If I were to leave New York, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, even though I knew it wouldn’t always be sunny and pink.
Carmelo Anthony is the pick here. He wanted New York. He wanted the Knicks. He needed a garden. And he got every aspect of New York just like Reggie did three decades ago. When the Knicks fought, Anthony heard a lot about it. When he had that one-year revival in 2012-13, winning 54 games and winning a single playoff series since 2000, every night was filled with chants.
“MVP!” He shouted. Every game.
“MVP!” They thundered. Every night.
“MVP!” He roared. Each. Single. Night.
“If you don’t get goose bumps when people show you such love,” Anthony said on the eve of the 2013 playoffs, “then there’s something wrong with you.”
But things got sour for the Knicks, and so they sourced for their franchise face, their franchise icon, their franchise superstar. Even now, Anthony remains a lightning rod, a dividing line between hero and villain, with Knicks fans evenly split between camps. And even now, after all that, Anthony buys the good angels of this city.
“I think the bond between me and New York City is going nowhere,” Anthony said during Monday’s zoom call. “That’s why I accept it the way I do.”
Anthony returned home Tuesday night in the city where he still maintains residence and says he always does. He came in the Lakers’ disgusting outfits, chose LA in the Knicks (among others) last offseason because he wanted to take a legitimate run in the playoffs, and the Lakers went too far in the process.
And while he may still be, he halted the game in Detroit over the weekend despite a 9-9 mark that brought Gordon to the game to play without Anthony’s boyfriend LeBron James.
Anthony? He continues a career resurgence that began in Portland over the last few years, where he became a popular member of the Blazers, a veteran statesman who showed he still had some game to play. As the Lakers ’sixth man, he was their best player on most nights, shooting 46.1 percent from 3-point range and shooting 46.1 percent.
“I’m doing what I love to do,” he said. “Adapting to the situation, the surroundings, being intelligent. Understanding what your team needs. They are looking forward to bringing in the scoring, shooting and another leader I have on this team.
Before long, he was the leader of the Knicks, and most importantly, he did it happily and voluntarily. He wanted New York. In recent years, it has become rare and rare to see athletes choosing New York with options instead of a tax haven in all sports, such as Florida, Arizona or California.
He wanted New York, and he tasted everything. Put him on the Namath Wing. Give him his own wall.