NBA Sunday: Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony’s Looming Legacies

Entering the 2014-15 season, both Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony face questions regarding their legacies.

Alan Draper profile picture
Sports Editor
We sometimes use affiliate links in our content, when clicking on those we might receive a commission – at no extra cost to you. By using this website you agree to our terms and conditions and privacy policy.

The horn sounded. The third quarter ended. Chris Paul sat on the bench, forlorn. His bright red jersey, now burgundy and drenched in sweat, clung to his frame.

He took a deep breath and looked up at his head coach. Searching and hoping for a diatribe that would light a fire under his listless teammates, he got the opposite.

“We’ll regroup for Game 2,” his coach said, mentally forfeiting.

“We’ll be ready,” he said.

But alas, this was Game 1 and there were still 12 minutes remaining.

And as he sat down and looked up at the scoreboard, he saw the 85-64 score. He didn’t need an abacus to tell him that his team faced an insurmountable deficit. That this was Game 1 on the road made the task of accomplishing the impossible all the more daunting.

Lesser men would have rationalized the defeat, waved the white flag and reasoned that they simply needed to win Game 2.

Instead, Paul opened his mouth.

“You have to give us a chance,” he pleaded with his coach.

And against his better judgment, Vinny Del Negro relented. Paul peeled himself up for the game’s final 12 minutes and went out and made history.

His Los Angeles Clippers didn’t just defeat the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, they practically robbed them at gunpoint, erasing a 24-point fourth quarter deficit to win Game 1 of a series that would eventually see them prevail in seven.

Yes, it was a heist, and afterward, Blake Griffin said so himself.

“We put a mask on and robbed that one,” Griffin told The Los Angeles Times.

So as Paul closes in on his 30th birthday and the questions about his durability and lack of bling persist and polarize, I ask you:

What will you remember him for?

Will you remember him for having the heart of a champion? Will you remember him for controlling and dominating games, despite often being the smallest competitor on the court? Will you remember him for single-handedly turning two franchises into contenders in the ever-tough Western Conference?

Or, will you, like those who cannot see past their own noses, simply boil his legacy and place in history down to the simple question of whether he was able to capture a championship over the course of his career?

Would Kevin Garnett not be as great of a player in your eyes if he never had the good fortune (and sense) to be traded to the Boston Celtics to team up with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen?

Would Dirk Nowitzki not be arguably one of the greatest shooters and offensive forces in NBA history if his 2011 Dallas Mavericks weren’t able to pull off one of the biggest NBA Finals upsets in history?

Are they, Garnett and Nowitzki, better players because they were able to accomplish that?

Through that lens, I ask you, even deeper, will you remember any of the NBA’s superstars who walk away from the game without ever having the pleasure of cradling the Larry O’Brien trophy?

If Kevin Durant is unable to lead his Oklahoma City Thunder to the promise land, will that diminish his greatness? Will you pretend as though he is not a transcendent basketball talent who, amazingly, has the stature of a beanstalk, the grace of a gazelle and the dead-eye of an eagle?

Will you brush their accomplishments aside and forget to mention them along the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade?

Will you cast their legacies aside and include them in the list of “others” that were unable to accomplish the game’s ultimate feat?

The gross majority of the basketball-watching public will, but you should not, because the ultimate measure of one’s greatness should not be boiled down to whether or not they were able to win a championship. Prudent and intelligent management is an integral part of accomplishing that and players have little control over it.

Yes, the bling sings, but it should be in pianissimo.


Let’s talk about irony.

Let’s talk about a player whose own fan base is torn on him and his talent.

Let’s talk about a player who has been expected to live up to an unattainable standard and is largely unappreciated as a result.

Yes, let’s talk about Carmelo Anthony and his self-appointed designation as being the game’s most underrated superstar, even after signing a five-year, $124 million contract to remain a member of the New York Knicks.

And then, let’s talk about the fact that Anthony is correct.

Perhaps somewhat naturally, in a culture that has come to worship the World Series of Poker and other winner-take-all endeavors, we have learned how to ignore all but the brightest shining star.

You’re either the best, or you’re not. You’re either the man, or you’re not. You’re either LeBron James, or you’re not.

I know LeBron, and Mr. Anthony, you are no LeBron.

But I know that Anthony is still an amazing basketball talent worthy of universal reverence from all-corners of the league (and the basketball-watching world, for that matter). But I also happen to know that Anthony is being simultaneously judged while his immense talents are disrespected and overlooked. Not only because he’s considered the peer of LeBron, and not only because of the dearth of playoff series victories, but also because of Allen Iverson.

Collectively, we were sold on the idea that Iverson, a “volume scorer,” who was both ball-dominant and inefficient, was impossible to win with. Over time, we soured on Iverson. We overlooked the fact that he would leave everything he had on the floor in pursuit of winning. Instead, we focused more on the fact that he was unable to win more and do more, despite the likes of Derrick Coleman, Matt Geiger, Toni Kukoc and Theo Ratliff being his wingmen.

Instead of talking about how he played hurt and was a one-man wrecking crew that was small enough to fit in Shaquille O’Neal’s pocket—and revering him for that—we would rather spend our time talking about practice and why Iverson was “only” able to lead his Philadelphia 76ers to one NBA Finals appearance.

Because of Iverson and his faults (and he did have quite a few), we were eventually taught to buy into the myth that a man whose most capable asset on the floor is his ability to score points is impossible to succeed with. We have been taught that anyone lacking the all-around skill set of LeBron James isn’t worthy of our respect.

And so what if Mark Cuban was able to finally win with Nowitzki?

Nowitzki was far more efficient than Carmelo. He’s never even sniffed the 50/40/90 club, so clearly, he’s not of Nowitzki’s caliber

We will continue to overlook the fact that since 2011, Anthony has become a more efficient shot maker, become a more willing passer and has flat-out played harder than we had grown accustomed to seeing him in the past.

We will continue to not believe that the correct offensive system—the triangle, in this case—can find a way to utilize his unique skills while hiding the weak points.

We will continue to overlook some of his more amazing accomplishments. Like that time when he finally got a capable running mate in Denver and he and Chauncey Billups gave an in-prime Kobe Bryant a valiant fight for the 2009 Western Conference Championship. Or that time in the 2011 NBA Playoffs where, without Billups and a healthy Amar’e Stoudemire, being flanked by the likes of Bill Walker, Toney Douglas, Jared Jeffries and Shawne Williams, Anthony put together one of the most amazing playoff performances many of us have ever seen.

After he single-handedly gave his New York Knicks an opportunity to win with a 42-point, 17-rebound, six-assist effort, Doc Rivers called him one of the best players he’s ever seen and said his Boston Celtics were “lucky” to have won that night.

The 33 points he scored in a single quarter back in 2008? We will brush that aside as quickly as we have the fact that he is one of the greatest and most accomplished players to ever play for USA Basketball. We will brush them aside just like we did his amazing performance in the 2012 Olympics, where he emerged as the alpha scorer for Team USA and set the USA Men’s Olympic team record for most points (37) scored in a game.

Those 62 points he scored against the Charlotte Hornets back in 2014 in Madison Square Garden? Most call that meaningless in the grand scheme.

Instead of holding Anthony in high esteem, we will continue to boil his usefulness and legitimacy down into one simple question…

How many championships has he won?

And until that number changes, if it changes, the answer to that questions equals how much respect he will get from the masses, because honoring, respecting and appreciating players like Anthony and Chris Paul requires more than a passive look. It requires actually watching.

It requires one to do more than simply look at a stat sheet or an accolades list to make a determination about a player’s worth.

It requires basketball education, and frankly, that’s a little too difficult for most of us to attain.

So yes, let’s talk about irony and let’s discuss what it is.

In short, irony is becoming a better player while your team regresses. Irony is making it through 11 years in the NBA without ever simultaneously having a coach that could fully utilize your skills and a Robin that fully complements them.

Since arriving in New York, like his salaries, Anthony’s game has risen while his stature in the league has seemingly gone on a descent.

That’s life as Anthony, though. The $124 million underrated superstar.

Ironic, isn’t it?


Since 1999, each NBA Finals has had at least one of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan or Dwyane Wade in it.

Duncan has had R.C. Buford and Greg Poppovich by his side for his amazing run. Bryant has served under Jerry West, Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson and Wade owes almost everything to Pat Riley.

Behind every great champion is a great executive and a great head coach. Winning requires an immense amount of talent on the basketball court, but it requires an immense amount of brainpower above it, as well.

In the end, no matter how great the player, he himself cannot single-handedly win the ultimate prize. In the end, reducing someone’s legacy and the amount of respect bestowed upon him to a single question as to whether he was able to win is an insult.

Although there are more chapters to be written in the books of Paul, Anthony and even Durant, eventually toppling LeBron’s reign atop the NBA is something that should enhance the legacies that they leave on the game. But if none of those three are able to, it should not detract or distract us from seeing them for the special talents that they are.

Success in the NBA is no accident. It requires an alpha-male, but it requires so much more.

Falling short of accomplishing that ultimate goal should not be a black mark against any player who changes the culture of a franchise and gives it an opportunity to compete at the highest level.

I’ll take Paul or Anthony on my team any day. I’ll take their strengths and their weaknesses and I’ll do my best to utilize them and hide them, respectively. I’d do my best to be the Mark Cuban to their Dirk Nowitzki.

And when it’s all said and done, win or lose, I’ll take their accomplishments and their shortcomings.

I just won’t take their credit.

When it’s all said and done, win or lose, after observing their growth over the years and their transforming of two franchises, I’ll take their legacies, too.

I’ll take their legacies and defend them, because unlike many, I understand that winning in the NBA never was and never will be about just one player.

But one’s legacy? It should be.

And at the end of the day, it is important to know the difference. Being an inlier is a natural byproduct of competition, but by no means should it reduce the esteem anointed to some of the greatest players we have had the pleasure of watching.

So no, neither Paul nor Anthony is LeBron. But at the end of the day, they’re still pretty damn good.

Alan is an expert gambling writer who works as one of the chief editors for Basketball Insiders. He has been covering online gambling and sports betting for over 8 years, having written for the likes of Sportlens,, The Sports Daily, 90min, and His particular specialisms include US online casinos and gambling regulations, and soccer and basketball betting. Based in London, Alan holds an MA in English Literature and is a passionate supporter of Chelsea FC.

Trending Now