“I was born in Brooklyn, New York,” it read.
And what a homecoming it was for Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony was an immediate star on his first day as a Knick, and he capped off his big day by scoring 27 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a 114-108 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.
Already exhausted from the chaos of All-Star weekend and a cross-country trip to New York, it wasn’t surprising when he struggled with his shot for three quarters of his debut. But on a day that was all about him, Anthony could only think about the Knicks.
“To come in today, go straight from the press conference to the locker room, then got to get ready for a basketball game like this was a lot,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters was a win.”
Anthony made only 10 of 25 shots but was at his best in the closing minutes, helping New York hold on after fellow superstar Amare Stoudemire fouled out. He matched the third-highest scoring game in a Knicks debut since 1964, just two points shy of Keith Van Horn’s record 29 on Oct. 29, 2003.
“He played great. He played Carmelo basketball,” Stoudemire said. “That’s what I wanted him to do, to be himself out there.”
Friends since high school, Anthony and Stoudemire have craved this reunion since the moment Stoudemire signed here in July. But neither was certain it would happen as the Nuggets weighed trade offers from the Knicks and New Jersey Nets in the final days before the trade deadline.
Anthony was on his way to the airport, headed for that unwanted return to Denver, when the call he waited for all season finally came Monday night.
The one that makes him a brighter star, and maybe makes the Knicks a bigger threat come playoff time.
“I think New York needed a moment like this,” Anthony said.
So did Anthony.
After waiting since September while the Nuggets worked to send him to the only destination he wanted, Anthony finally arrived Wednesday, telling a packed news conference he is the right kind of person to deal with New York.
“Is it going to be an easy transition for me? No. Is it going to be a lot of challenges? Yes. Is there going to be a lot of expectations? Yes,” he said. “But I’m willing to accept all of them challenges.”
The Knicks are betting on it, trading away four of their top players as part of a three-team, 13-player blockbuster that was completed Tuesday. All the players completed their physicals Wednesday, making Anthony eligible to make his Knicks debut against the Milwaukee Bucks.
“I feel like I’m still dreaming right now,” said Anthony, now wearing No. 7 and armed with a three-year, $65-million extension as he joined fellow All-Star Stoudemire in the frontcourt, giving the Knicks the potent duo they hoped they could assemble last summer in free agency.
With the building appearing completely full before tipoff, fans roared as quotes from Anthony appeared on the overhead videoboard before introductions, noting he was born in Brooklyn and wanted to be former Knicks star Bernard King.
Anthony was then introduced first to a raucous ovation, and quickly earned his first points as a Knick on an offensive rebound with 9:37 left in the first quarter.
Referring to the high price the Knicks paid, Anthony said, “I’m pretty sure if any of you guys were GMs or owners, you would want me and Amare on the same team as well. I don’t know who would turn that down.”
Anthony decided last summer he wanted out of Denver, the team that drafted him third overall in 2003. The Brooklyn native wanted the deal to New York, in part for the opportunities it will present he and his actress wife, La La Vazquez, who was among the crowd that filled the lobby of the Theater at Madison Square Garden and was interviewed by the MSG Network at halftime.
But Anthony made it clear his focus is on Madison Square Garden’s basketball court, where he averaged 30.4 points in his visits with Denver, just behind Kobe Bryant’s 30.5 for best among active players.
Wearing a Knicks warmup suit and orange headband, Anthony beamed as he posed for photos holding his new jersey.
“Will we win a championship this year? Who knows?” said Anthony, who spoke for about 10 minutes. “That takes time. But at the end of the day, we’re moving into the right direction. I felt like I wanted to be part of an organization, part of a team who had some upside and knew what the future was holding.”
Not everything was cleared up even after the deal was done. MSG chairman James Dolan felt the need at the start of Wednesday’s news conference to again deny reports he had removed team president Donnie Walsh from negotiations while being advised by Isiah Thomas.
“While Isiah Thomas is a friend of mine, a very good friend of mine, he was not at all involved in this process,” Dolan said. “He wasn’t advising me or telling me what to do in any way, and any reports that implied he was doing that are simply untrue and a fiction in somebody’s mind.”
The Knicks also got guard Anthony Carter and forwards Renaldo Balkman and Shelden Williams from Denver. New York dealt forwards Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, guard Raymond Felton and center Timofey Mozgov to the Nuggets.
The Nuggets didn’t want to include Billups, a Denver native who is so beloved there that Nuggets president Josh Kroenke and general manager Masai Ujiri apologized to his family and the team’s fans during their press conference Tuesday.
“It was time to go obviously and I’m excited about this challenge,” Billups said.
Anthony, Stoudemire and Billups – all teammates in 2007 on the U.S. basketball team that won the Olympic qualifier while running Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense – posed for photos together during the press conference. The Knicks have stressed the importance of also acquiring Billups, a five-time All-Star and former NBA finals MVP, as did Anthony.
“He knows what it takes to win championships,” Anthony said. “He knows what it takes to win basketball games.”
The Knicks haven’t made the playoffs since 2004. They are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference in their first season since acquiring Stoudemire from Phoenix last summer.
Stoudemire has said the blockbuster deal could make them better equipped to face teams like Boston and Miami, which already have multiple All-Stars, in the postseason.
“I know we got to jell. We got to get our chemistry down,” Anthony said. “At the same time, we’ve got to roll. We got things to go out there and accomplish. We got goals to reach, and it starts now.”