By Eduardo Maisonet, III / @edthesportsfan
For FOX Deportes
If you were not aware, Team USA Basketball has officially begun their training to prepare for the 2012 London Olympics. Team USA is the clear favorite to bring home the gold once again, to no one’s amazement, although many of the potential team members will have had just a few weeks to rest and recover from a hectic 2011-12 NBA campaign.
One of America’s leaders on this 2012 team will be the man with the Puertorican flag tattooed on his shooting hand, Mr. Carmelo Anthony.
For Anthony, this will be his third rodeo with the Men’s Olympic team. In 2004, he was a rookie on what some would call America’s biggest international embarrassment. USA would relinquish their hold on the gold medal in 2004, sustain an overhaul of USA’s entire organization, and in 2008 Carmelo was not only a captain of the squad, but arguably the team’s most dominant player. The Redeem Team wrecked havoc on all comers and the USA brought home their first gold medal in an international competition in 8 years since the 2000 Olympics.
Of course, the best was really yet to come for Carmelo.
Carmelo’s biggest hurdle had always been leading his Denver Nuggets to the promised land. That’s what he was put on this earth to do, at least to Nuggets fans. Yet, the only thing Carmelo and the Nuggets could muster was an appearance in the playoffs and a first-round exit in his first five seasons with the club.
Then the 2008-09 season happened.
It was as if the additional leadership, flourishing on the international stage and watching how others went about their business had emboldened Carmelo. Suddenly, Carmelo was more willing to not only play defense, but willing to defend the other team’s best offensive wing player. Carmelo was shooting less, deferring to others on the team and doing other things to help the team win. Carmelo even seemed more confident in the clutch, as big shots always came his way, and more often than not they’d go in, as expected.
Carmelo’s Nuggets finished with 54 wins in 2008-09, the most in the franchise’s history since their dominance in the ABA. The Nuggets made it out the first round for the first time in 15 years. (Remember the Dikembe Mutombo #8 seed Nuggets and their series victory over the #1 seed Seattle Supersonics? Yep…that sound you hear is Seattle fans beating their heads on their desk.) When the Nuggets matched up with the soon-to-be NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, the Nuggets were filled with a swagger that’d never been seen before. They were following Carmelo’s confident lead. Carmelo was over there checking Kobe Bryant, by himself. Carmelo was matching buckets with Kobe Bryant, with no fear. It was the maturation of Carmelo before our very eyes.
Too bad the Nuggets had nothing for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
Carmelo’s rise four years ago isn’t new. We saw this happen by another star back on the 1992 Dream Team, who ended up being that team’s most dominant player and the following season saw the fruits of his labor come to fruition in the NBA playoffs. That, would be Charles Barkley. Yes it was Barkley, not Jordan, who was the Dream Team’s most dominant player as they crushed all comers. Barkley got to play with the world’s best and ultimately he fed off of it. He openly competed with Jordan, never backing down. A brash player became even brasher (is that a word?) and when he returned to NBA life, things changed drastically for Barkley.
Barkley was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Phoenix Suns. Sir Charles had done everything he could with the moribund and decrepit Sixers franchise, and now with the Suns he blazed a new trail. With new coach Paul Westphal and All-Stars Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle, the Suns became the West power, ransacking all opponents. Barkley won the MVP in 1992-93, finally getting over the hump and making it to the NBA Finals, and the Suns traded blows with Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls for six valiant games. The Suns followed Barkley into battle confidently. Barkley took the bully on in Jordan, and even crazily stated that he believed that God told him in a dream that the Suns would win the world championship.
Too bad Dan Majerle had to guard Michael Jordan instead of God. Oh well.
The Olympics has a way of transforming players that are very good and putting them into elite status. Maybe it’s the cause and effect of playing with and bonding with the world’s best basketball players. Carmelo grew exponentially in 2008, as a 24-year old still figuring it out with a team that was growing along with him. Now in 2012, Carmelo’s 28, in the prime of his career, and with a new team in the New York Knicks whose goal has been made clear. Winning an NBA championship. The stakes are high, and Carmelo knows it. Maybe this will be another proving ground for Anthony, one where he can show his overall dominance in ways we haven’t been able to see in Madison Square Garden. If he does it again in London, dominating in front of the world, will it translate for the player who plays on the ultimate stage with the pressure of not winning a title now looming larger than ever? (Thanks LeBron.)
Gold medal would be a nice start, but that gold trophy in 2013 would be even nicer for Carmelo. For now, it’s just one step at a time.