NBA player Carmelo Anthony, age 35, had been unsigned for a full calendar year since his last stint with the Houston Rockets.
35 is old in professional basketball. Most professional players’ careers are over by that age. Mine was, too.
So, a player of that age being unsigned and possibly seeing his career end via a lack of general interest in his services wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
Except that it was a big deal for it to happen to Melo, because… well, because it’s Carmelo Anthony.
Melo is a guaranteed Hall Of Famer, drafted as part of the famed 2003 Draft Class along with other one-name stars such as LeBron, DWade and Bosh.
Melo scored a lot of points in his heyday; that scoring is the reason why he will be enshrined in Springfield. Melo has a legion of loyal fans, a base that has only grown since his recent NBA “exile.”
(Note: when something bad happens to you —such as being unemployed, blackballed or death — your fan base grows exponentially. People love a redemption story.)
Many fans, who understand the game casually and come to their conclusions more emotionally than rationally (not a bad thing; we can call that “human”), felt Melo “deserved” to be in the NBA and that he was being “disrespected” by the NBA; some even suggested that he was being “blackballed” a la Colin Kaepernick for some unknown reason.
“Melo is a Hall Of Famer, how can he NOT be signed?!?!”
“Melo is better than HALF the dudes in the NBA right now!!!”
“If ________ (random average NBA player) can have a job, MELO can have a job!!!”
“Melo is a walking BUCKET!!! Look at all the points he scores in those Instagram videos!!!”
I like Carmelo. I own a few pairs of Melo-branded Jordan sneakers. But I also understood why Carmelo was left unsigned. The reasons were quite logical, if not very helpful for Melo’s case.
1) Carmelo Anthony has been a legitimate superstar in the NBA.
As skills decline and a player is no longer the #1 option for his team, such as the case with every NBA superstar not named Jordan, Kobe or LeBron, many superstars have a hard time adjusting to lesser roles.
Melo was not immune to this mindset — causing some teams to stay away from Melo strictly for team chemistry issues.
To his credit, Melo has adjusted his tone regarding coming off the bench and being something less than a first option.
2) The NBA has all kinds of deep statistics these days, commonly referred to as “analytics.”
Those analytics can tell you, among other things, just how much impact — positive or negative — that any single player has on a game while on or off the court.
Analytics have not been kind to Melo: they objectively show that in his last two jobs, in Oklahoma City and Houston, Melo’s presence on the court makes a team considerably worse on defense. And melo’s offense doesn’t make up the difference.
In other words, Melo’s presence was a net negative.
In basketball, defense is half of the game. Having Melo on the court hurt your chances of winning the game.
That’s a good reason to not want a guy on your team.
Last week, however, Carmelo signed on with the Portland Trailblazers. Fans rejoiced. He’s probably played in his first game by the time you’re reading this.
I gain or lose nothing no matter what Carmelo Anthony does on the basketball court, so I hope he does well. Good basketball is always fun to watch.
What caught my attention in the Melo case, same as the Kaepernick situation, is fans’ insistence that either player, or anyone else, “deserves” something that he doesn’t have.
The NFL and NBA are companies, and companies hire workers.
Football and basketball players, despite the status that comes with their salaries and fame and athletic abilities, are still workers at the end of the day.
Yes — just like the janitors who clean the bathrooms and the ticket takers at the front gates.
Athletes are harder to *replace* than the maintenance men, sure, but they are replaceable. They have to be, since no career lasts forever.
Kaepernick and Melo have both experienced this reality in full, as will every player currently under contract in every sport worldwide. The game will move on with or without any individual player.
So the argument of “deserving” a job is a flimsy one.
It may galvanize fans, and possibly appeal to empathetic executives who value sentiment over the bottom line (good luck finding one of those).
If Carmelo Anthony falters in Portland — whether it be his bad defense, a lack of ability to score points (his best trait, and the one Portland is banking on), or because Portland continues losing games even with the addition of Melo — he could be gone just as quickly as he arrived.
The best way to deserve something in life is NOT via the method Kaepernick and Carmelo fans have stated: laying out your personal attributes and insisting that those skills alone overpower any counter-arguments and entitle you to what you want.
That is more of a demand than a sales pitch, and workers making demands of bosses rarely turns out well— again, see Kaepernick.
Those arguments have resulted in a combined 4 years of unemployment. The data says that this doesn’t work.
Here’s a better method, the one that Portland General Manager Neil Olshey explained to Melo with one statement upon signing him: “you need us, and we need you.”
The best way to deserve is to create mutual need and benefit between you and your prospective partner.
Portland needs help at Melo’s position. Melo needs a job — any job— in the NBA.
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