Dec. 12, 2019 -- The day future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony stepped back on the Pepsi Center floor in front of his first-ever NBA home crowd.
A day he feared would never happen.
But, thanks to the Trail Blazers, it did happen.
The Blazers lost to the Nuggets 114-99; however, the game itself was never really a storyline that day.
It was about a reunion after a year of not playing.
Denver improved to 15-8 after the win.
This was a game that Anthony had thought might never happen, in fact, just recently during the NBA hiatus, the Trail Blazers veteran opened up, admitting that he felt like he "hit rock bottom" when his career was in limbo and he was searching for a team to give him another shot.
In his first time back to Denver since he returned from his one-year hiatus, the question on everyone's mind was how would he be received...
We got the answer.
Nuggets fans had buried the hatchet.
Anthony played for Denver for 7 1/2 years before being traded to New York.
Melo's time in Denver eventually soured when speculation began in the 2010–11 season that he wanted out of Denver. It led to some tumultuous times before the trade to the Knicks eventually occurred in February of 2011.
But, that day on Dec. 12, 2019, there were no grudges.
And, just as the Nuggets fans showed Melo love, the Denver media showed up in droves wanting to hear from the player they used to cover.
Prior to the Blazers taking on the Nuggets, Melo told reporters that if there would've been a chance for him to reunite with the Nuggets, he was “open to it.”
We talked about it. People in my circle were like, ‘Go back to Denver.’ If it was that easy I probably would’ve done it. A lot of things came into play when it comes to that, kind of out of my control at that time, the timing was off. Similar to Portland, the timing has always just been off. All of the sudden that window of opportunity was there [in Portland]. -- Carmelo Anthony
Denver was Anthony’s third-consecutive game against one of his former teams over that week span in early December. Portland lost to Oklahoma City earlier in the week before beating New York and then making their way to Denver.
During that morning’s shootaround at the Pepsi Center, the 2013 NBA scoring champ, spoke highly of his time in the Mile High City.
“I don’t think I can ever stop appreciating not just the organization but the city as a whole. We were at a point in time where it was a shift, the team had just only won 17 games prior to when we came in. We kind of started or created a different culture here. The uniforms changed, we changed the colors of the uniform, the vibe in Denver was different, the aura in the city, the energy was different. We were a part of that change.”
The Melo Effect was quickly visible after he was selected third overall in the 2003 NBA draft.
The Nuggets improved their win total by twenty-six games in Anthony's rookie season. They had a winning record, they made the playoffs. Melo averaged 2.1 points and 6.1 rebounds, he was the clear reason for their turnaround.
And now there’s just one thing missing in Denver, at least according to Anthony:
The No. 15 hanging from the rafters.
The former Nuggets forward believes it would be fitting to have his number retired in Denver.
This is where it should be retired to be honest with you, just my opinion… I think that the history is here, it’s where it all started. -- Carmelo Anthony after the Dec. 12 game.
Denver has not made such arrangements. Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic currently wears No. 15.
Melo joked that could be a problem.
“Maybe not because Jokic got 15 now. We’ll see, man. We still got time,” Melo laughed.
Yes, the Nuggets still have time for a man who gave them his heart and soul for seven-and-a-half years.
Anthony played and started in 80 games during the 2005–06 season with the Nuggets, averaging 26.5 points (eighth, NBA), 2.7 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.
That season CLUTCH MELO became a thing.
The year, Anthony made five game-winning shots in the last five seconds:
- At Houston on January 8,
- At home vs. Phoenix on January 10
- At Minnesota on February 24
- At Indiana on March 15
- At home versus the Los Angeles Lakers on April 6
The Blazers know about his game-winning buckets, sorry about your bad luck this season, Toronto.
But, for all the regular season success Anthony had with Denver, there wasn’t much in the way of postseason success. He holds an overall record of 17-38 in playoff games and 10 of his wins came during the Nuggets 2009 run to the Western Conference Finals before falling to the Lakers.
Really, though, who could blame Melo for wanting out of Denver? He hadn’t reached his goal of winning it all after being on the Mile High City for over seven years.
It took just one year in college.
During the 2002–03 season, Melo’s freshmen year, he averaged 22.2 points and guided the Orange to their first-ever NCAA tournament title.
He had said he was planning to play for Syracuse for a couple of more years before the season started, but after accomplishing his goal of winning a championship he knew he could move on.
The quest for an NBA championship continues now with Damian Lillard and Co.
Because it sure doesn't seem like Melo is ready to move on.
(By the way, Tuesday’s Trail Blazers Classic Game features Carmelo Anthony vs. Brandon Roy in the epic 2009 Christmas Day battle between the Blazers and Nuggets. Check it out at 6:30pm on NBCSNW.)
Be sure to check out the full Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with host NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon.