After the game, in the Knicks' locker room, Mitch Lawrence, Isola's colleague at the Daily News and a frequent critic of, well, most things, shakes his head ruefully. "I just wrote my last column about how Carmelo's matured," he says. "Oops!" Lawrence grimaces. "MVPs don't get thrown out of games. MVPs go down fighting."
Sometime after 11 p.m., much to the consternation of the beat writers on deadline, Anthony finally emerges. He is wearing a leather flat cap backward, jeans and what appears to be a camouflage flak jacket. He looks like he's on the front lines of some futuristic fashion war or starring in an '80s music video. He looks around at the reporters and smiles. "S--- happens," he says.
A few weeks later, when Kevin Garnett goads Anthony into an altercation, he will not react as benignly, stalking Garnett after the game and receiving a one-game suspension. Tonight, though, he seems relaxed. He laughs, smiles and, before heading out into the night, promises that the loss was a blip on the screen.
Knicks fans are not so sure. The next day I exchange messages with Chris Gregory, a 57-year-old retired NYPD sergeant who lives in the Bronx. Gregory has been a Knicks fan dating back to the days of Dave DeBusschere and Walt Frazier. He has never cared for Anthony, who he believes quits on the team. His reaction to Anthony's performance against the Bulls? "He's a crybaby and an a------."
For most of us it would be awkward, if not embarrassing, to watch video of ourselves at our jobs. Anthony does it almost every day. When I sit down with him at the Knicks' practice facility and pull up footage of their Dec. 13 game against the Lakers on an iPad, he moves seamlessly into analysis mode.
On the first possession he catches the ball in transition on the right wing and immediately launches a three-pointer. Asked what he was thinking, Anthony looks up. "Just to take that shot," he says. "Coming into the game is kind of like a heat check for me." That's an unusual concept; generally one must hit at least one shot before a heat check is in order. "I had a feeling all day," Anthony explains. "I felt good about my shot at shootaround."
As we watch, crouched on a pair of blue plastic chairs on the sideline, Anthony's teammates finish up on the court. At the near basket small forward Ronnie Brewer, mired in a shooting slump, disconsolately fires threes off the side of the rim. (Steve Novak, trying to buck him up, says, "Shoot it, baby! Don't ever think about it.") Across the building a small boy wearing a Carmelo jersey waits, hoping to get it autographed.
Anthony has long since finished his own workout and is wearing a gray cutoff shirt and sweatpants pulled up to the knees, having taken an ice bath for a still balky ankle. He looks noticeably trimmer than in seasons past, the result of a combination of dieting—two weeks carb-free last summer—and ball busting. In particular, from Kobe Bryant. Whenever Bryant sees Anthony, apparently, he rides him. The gist of it seems to be, You're a fat chucker who hasn't won anything. "He'll be like, 'You ain't been in the gym,'" says Anthony. "Now I could have been in the gym all summer, but I see him one time and he says, 'You ain't been in the gym.'" Anthony smiles. He and Bryant are close, having played together on the Olympic team, and Anthony understands that Kobe's chiding comes from a good place. "Last year he would call me and ask me what the F I'm doing if I'm not shooting the ball, if I'm not playing my game."
On the iPad the miniature Anthony follows his first three by hitting another (from the wing) and then another (a questionable attempt from the top of the key). "A lot of people might think that's a bad shot," Carmelo says, "but if I'm coming down in transition and the defense is on its heels, I don't consider that a bad shot." O.K., then, I ask, what is your definition of a bad shot? Anthony thinks for a second. "A forced shot, a contested shot that you have no chance of making at all," he says. "Somebody's open, you miss them and you force up a shot, that's a bad shot. It's a shot that you second-guess, a shot you didn't really want to take but you took it."