A Blast From the Past??

By Vincent Thomas
Updated: March 11, 2009

NEW YORK — Some of you might think Carmelo Anthony is a lost soul, maybe even a bit of a punk. To me, though, he’s a blast from the not-too-distant past and it’s probably why, in spite of his slip-ups, I dig the dude so much.

There are times when I watch ‘Melo and I can’t help but think about Seinfeld, Wu-Tang, VHS tapes, the 1999 Lockout, chest bumping, Puffy & Mase, bandannas, John Singleton flicks, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and a bunch of other time-capsule touchstones.

It’s like ‘Melo’s a character on Lost and he’s time-traveled 10 years forward. Put ‘Melo in a group with his current peers and he stands out … still … even after he’s cut off his cornrows. He’s just a different breed, a dude that, for whatever reason, has never embraced this new-generation zeitgeist.

Oh, his game is definitely new-age — they didn’t make small forwards like ‘Melo until ‘Melo. But his attitude, demeanor and career snafus are so 1995 or 1997 or 2001.

Whereas Chris Paul, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy, Kevin Durant, Danny Granger and basically every other young dynamo conspicuously sports the New NBA’s clean cut, smiley-faced, trouble-free, earnest sheen, ‘Melo is the one young star stepping with that counterculture strut of his immediate elders.

When the Nuggets suspended ‘Melo recently after he refused to take his “hot hand in a close game” to the bench, I thought, “Come on, ‘Melo. Who are you? Rasheed Wallace?”

Then he returned to Denver’s lineup a few days later and responded by sprinting to the bench — with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek — when coach George Karl subbed him out the first time.

I’m sure ‘Melo thought it was witty and his teammates got a kick out of it, but it came across more like veiled protest than good-soldier obedience.

A friend of mine once told me that our generation (‘Melo’s immediate elders, folks 5-10 years older than him) didn’t protest with activism, like our parents; instead, our rebellion was marked by either petulance or indifference, a violent tantrum or a sarcastic shrug of our shoulders.

‘Melo’s sprint to the bench was classic indifference, a VHS-move; something Latrell Sprewell would have done, not LeBron James. ‘Melo’s image-conscious peers wouldn’t have acted out and gotten suspended in the first place, but if they were, trust that they would have jogged back to the bench as unassuming as possible and probably smiled at the coach.

Not ‘Melo. He’s too 1990s for that.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the New NBA stars don’t get in trouble anymore. ‘Melo didn’t get the memo, though. He’s been caught with weed in an airport, clashed with his 2004 Olympic coach, infamously appeared in a home video that linked him to the recently moronic Stop Snitching campaign, served a 15-game suspension for sucker-punching Mardy Collins at Madison Square Garden, caught a DUI; and through it all, he still hasn’t had a season on the court where achievement matches expectations.

The marquee cats from ‘Melo’s generation actually exceed expectations — so much so, that you almost never hear the word “underachieve” uttered anymore … that is, unless ‘Melo’s name comes up.

But ‘Melo’s flaws are endearing, to me. His mistakes are frustrating, but the public second-guessing and censuring they invite (mostly deserved) invoke a little protectionism from me.

My peers and I have ambled through life embracing and defending the Fab Five, Allen Iverson, Barry Bonds, Randy Moss and most of the other athletes that routinely operated outside the margins of consensus adoration. These were vilified men that were never actual villains.

‘Melo is cut from this same cloth, and it’s probably why if you ask a lot of cats the age of ‘Melo’s big brothers (and older) who their “favorite” baller is (not “the best”), they’ll probably name ‘Melo.

We dig, probably for backwards reasons, non-conformist athletes. And as the NBA’s new generation mirrors America lurching closer to behavioral homogeny, ‘Melo is curiously refreshing. Or at least compelling.

The NBA and the Nuggets probably wish that ‘Melo would quit the charade and join his peers. There’s no way that David Stern hasn’t thought, “Why can’t Carmelo be more like LeBron?”

The Nuggets probably wish that they didn’t need for Chauncey Billups to come in and be ‘Melo’s on-court father, that ‘Melo would step up and lead like Roy, Bron, Wade and Paul.

Staying out of trouble, overachieving on the court and taming his rebellious streak is what’s best for ‘Melo, his squad and the league. That’s an indisputable fact.

But ‘Sheed and A.I. are on their way out. What would the NBA be without one Bad Boy, even if the boy ain’t really all that bad? For nostalgia’s sake, I like my man ‘Melo just the way he is.