Entering the United Center for a Bulls game, one can usually assume the crowd surrounding them will form a living, breathing canvas of red and black. Especially on a night when the Portland Trail Blazers are in town.
That wasn't the case on Monday.
Sure, you had your Damian Lillard classic home jerseys, your CJ McCollum red alternates. And, of course, the majority of those gathered were dressed in their finest Bulls threads.
But spattered across the arena were flecks of color from a wider palette: Nuggets powder blue, vibrant Syracuse Orange, electric Knicks azure — all bonded, not by a team, but by a player.
Somehow, they were the loudest.
And who could blame them? The man they all came to see and raucously support, Carmelo Anthony, turned back the clock in Portland's 117-94 drubbing of the Bulls, scoring 25 points and snatching eight rebounds on 10-for-20 shooting (4-for-7 from deep). Mere weeks ago, he was deemed out of the league for good. Tonight, he received "Bring Back Melo" chants, even from fans who never saw him play for their favorite team.
"That support, that was the most important thing to hear that tonight," Anthony said of the chants. "From fans, that's Chicago Bulls fans, with me on a whole other team... Those fans didn't have to do that."
He's certainly correct in that, especially given that Anthony never suited up for the Bulls in his career. But the ten days he spent technically a member of the team back in January, after being unloaded in what was effectively a salary dump by the Rockets, are not lost on the Chicago faithful. Nor are they lost on Anthony.
"I think at the end of the day I will always be connected to Chicago some way some how. For years and years my name has always been connected to the Chicago Bulls," he said. Then, with a chuckle, "I was a Bull for 10 days, so, some way some how I will always be connected with that."
That's one connecting point. Another is that tonight's performance marked the fourth team (Nuggets, Knicks, Thunder, Blazers) for which Anthony has dropped 20 points on the Bulls. And he did it in the quintessential Melo fashion — burrowing his head into the belly of opposing defenders, jab stepping to create space, pulling up from behind the three-point line, stroking turnaround jumpers out of the post. At one point, he drove and plastered a dunk across Wendell Carter Jr.'s face, then sank a three-pointer seconds later after Carter turned the ball over trying to inbound.
"I think he likes playing in this building to be honest with you. He's had a lot of good performances in this building since I've been here," Jim Boylen said.
"It felt good. I mean, I been working man. I don't wanna sound arrogant or cocky or anything like that, but it's a humbling situation for me and it's just a testament to all the work I've been putting in," Anthony said of having all his old moves working. "My body feels good. Mentally, I feel good. But that dunk felt good.
"I just, I haven't had an opportunity to do that stuff. That stuff never goes nowhere, you always have that, you just gotta continue perfecting it and stay with it. I just haven't had the opportunity to be in those positions... I have the opportunity now."
His numbers weren't empty, either. With the Bulls actually firing on all cylinders offensively in the first quarter, Anthony notched 12 points in the game's first 12 minutes to keep it a back-and-forth affair. Then, in the third, he caught fire again. The aforementioned five points-in-15-seconds sequence effectively put the Bulls' comeback hopes to bed.
"The boost at the beginning of the game was good, but third quarter was really good to get us — you know, Chicago's a feisty team, the way they came back against Charlotte — to get some separation," Portland head coach Terry Stotts said. "He had good rhythm all game."
"Seeing Melo out there in his bag like that, just in a good rhythm, you know, to see him out there, it was fun to watch," Lillard said. "Our whole bench we were just excited to see him get it going. You know, him being here, it's been fun, and we all welcome seeing his bounce back happen and it's gonna be fun to watch."
With his 25 points, Anthony passed Alex English for 18th on the all-time NBA scoring list. He acknowledged that milestones of that ilk have started to carry more weight the further along in his career he's progressed, but also stressed that his focus was on the win, his team and his family. Anthony's wife, Lala, was in attendance and, after the game, the two FaceTimed their son on the court.
"It's a great night. I think, for me, it's just taking it one day at a time," Anthony said. "Today was being in the moment, being in the now and focusing on what we need to focus on, which was getting this win, and doing what I have to do — my part — to help this team win. And the ball went in tonight."
Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.