On a frigid Wednesday night, people streamed into Moda Center for a Blazer game, like they have thousands of times before. But the feeling at the Rose Quarter on Thanksgiving Eve was different. There was a new blessing in the hearts of every man, woman and child streaming in from the cold: The blessing of Carmelo Anthony.
Melo has joined the struggling Blazers on the road a few games back, on the heels of a series of terrible offseason moves, and has mostly looked pretty good—at least like an NBA forward, something the Blazers haven't really had. He's looked more or less like a facsimile of the Carmelo Anthony of old, rusted by age and a year out of the league, but still in possession of the gifts that have made him a 10 time NBA All-Star.
And in the hour before his home debut on Nov. 27, a palpable sense of excitement was in the air.
"I'm stoked for Melo, are you kidding me?" said a young man in a Carmelo Blazers jersey he bought earlier in the day. "Melo is one of my top 10 players of all time. I've been wanting Melo on our team for 10 years. To see him tonight—I'm so stoked."
Brian Knagin, wearing a Blazers sweater and holding a newly purchased Carmelo jersey, traveled all the way Kodiak, Alaska, specifically to see Melo take the court at Moda Center for the first time. It also happens to be Knagin's first live NBA game.
"This game is the only reason why I'm here in Portland," he says. "I am a huge Carmelo fan. I've watched him since 2002 at Syracuse. I really thought he was done, and as soon as I found out he was signed by the Blazers, I had to come."
The general consensus among everyone I talked to was that, even if Melo can't pull the Blazers out of the spiral they've found themselves in, his presence on a team that doesn't usually have extraordinarily famous dudes on it was cool enough to justify the signing.
Melo proceeded to have an excellent game—historic, in fact, by his own standards, shooting the best percentage he has in his entire career on the number of shots he took:
Watching him in person is a marvel, a throwback to a time when basketball's modern obsessions with motion and spacing were European concepts, unfit for the highly skilled players of the association. Watching him back a dude down on the mid-block, size him up and execute a turnaround jumper over him is really a beautiful, increasingly novel sight in the NBA. And hearing the crowd lose their shit when it goes down—well, it's nice.
At one point, Chris Paul—currently plying his trade for the Oklahoma City Thunder after he kinda washed out of Houston, much like Anthony did—was set against Melo on a switch. He squared him up and scored, and it was a lovely moment. Dwyane Wade retired last year, Melo almost washed out altogether, Paul is grinding in the bottom of the West Conference. Games like the one Wednesday night are beautiful: The last embers of a generation of dudes who rebuilt the whole league in their image after Jordan left.
Of that generation, only LeBron James is still playing at a level commensurate with his reputation. But the King doesn't always feel like he's of this time. His approach is just so lethally optimized—so much playmaking, so many shots at the rim, sorta-consistent three-point shooting. Everyone who came after him replicates that template, to some degree: Kevin Durant, murdering defenses with pure shooting skill that complements his physical profile; Steph Curry, breaking the game with a fundamentally unstoppable shooting stroke; James Harden, gaming everything and everyone he can to bleed as many points as possible out of the game.
Watching Melo and Paul the other night, I thought about how they have begun to feel like throwbacks in their own time. Dudes who have precise, highly choreographed offensive skills, an "I will score on you, you pitiful defender" mindset, the babies of Michael Jordan, out there to immolate their defender as much as win a game. (Damian Lillard has some of that too, and Jimmy Butler as well, as long as we're making lists.)
It'll be interesting to see if Melo can fit into the Blazers' more modern approach, and haul the team out of the shitter. But even if he doesn't, hearing an arena full of Blazer fans lose their shit over watching him live within a dying art-form is good enough for me.