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A shot that you didn't really want to take but you took it. This is the push-pull that has dominated Anthony's career. He knows the right thing to do on the court but doesn't always do it. Take the hockey assist—the pass before the pass that leads to a basket. For a player who gets doubled as much as Anthony, it's hugely important. "Coach Woodson always talks about, 'Melo, sometimes you ain't going to get the direct assists, sometimes you got to make the hockey pass,'" Anthony says. "For me and the team and the guys, we know that that's the most important pass." He pauses, the old Melo creeping back onto his shoulder. "But if you look on the stat sheet and see I got two assists.... If you didn't watch the game, you wouldn't understand."
There are some around the team who believe that it is Kidd, more than Woodson, who has turned Anthony around. And while Anthony is quick to credit Woodson, he clearly respects Kidd greatly. The two talk every day, Kidd asking him what he sees and vice versa. The result, Anthony says, is like having "a third eye." Kidd also appears to function as something of an on-court therapist. "He'll talk to me during the game," Anthony says. "It's like, 'Melo, in this situation, don't worry about it, if you miss a shot, cool. If you ain't getting the ball, I know how to get you the ball, so don't sweat it.' And that's real helpful."
On the iPad, the clip ends. Before we part ways, I have two more questions for Carmelo. The first is about Koppelman's concern—that the team will hit a bad spell and he'll revert. Anthony assures me he will not, because losing "doesn't linger in our locker room" and "we've already had bad moments and don't get down." Everything he mentions, I notice, relates to his teammates, not himself.
Finally, I tell him about Gregory's harsh assessment of his performance. Anthony looks taken aback at first, then laughs. "I mean, what would you want me to do? I've never been a crybaby. I love physical games. The one thing I've learned about New York and the fans in New York is you're [only] as good as your last game, so regardless of what you do, you're not gonna be able to please everybody." Anthony pauses. "I don't know what to say, he's a cop!"
Head up Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, wind your way along the canyon roads, and you'll eventually come to the home of Haralabos Voulgaris. Nestled in the Hollywood Hills, his neighborhood is the kind where every mansion has a Range Rover in front and a grandiose water feature in the back. It's the L.A. people who have never been to L.A. imagine.
Voulgaris is many things (the son of a Canadian businessman and gambler, a tournament poker player with more than $1 million in lifetime winnings, a former consultant to an NBA team), but he is foremost an NBA gambler—and a very successful one. His first big bet came in 1999 when, as a philosophy major at Manitoba University, he saved up $80,000 working as a skycap. He bet on the Lakers to win the title before the season, and when L.A. started the season slowly after acquiring Shaquille O'Neal, the bookmakers downgraded the team's odds. Voulgaris deemed it a rash overreaction. He laid down the rest of his $80K. When the Lakers won the following spring, he had his bankroll.
These days Voulgaris, who is 37, wiry and handsome in a coolest-guy-at-the-Apple-Genius-Bar way, relies less on intuition and more on data. Over the past five years, with the help of a staff of five, he has created and honed a vast statistical database that uses information from the last 12 NBA seasons to determine the value of every player in the league. The system is not reactive, like most player rankings, but predictive. Voulgaris's goal, after all, is purely financial: to beat the betting line. (He says NBA teams have tried to buy the system from him.) To inform his bets, he spends seven nights a week watching every NBA game, looking for tendencies and anomalies. On the subject of Carmelo Anthony, he may be as close to an objective arbiter as one can find.
I visited Voulgaris on a recent January evening at his gated home, where he lives with his Jack Russell terrier, Coltrane. We sat in the living room facing two media towers, each of which held three flat-screen TVs. A seventh, larger flat screen was in the middle. The Knicks were playing the Spurs, and Voulgaris, though wary of too much publicity—he was recently featured in Nate Silver's book The Signal and the Noise—had agreed to discuss Anthony, whom he finds fascinating.
As it turns out, Voulgaris is a big fan of Carmelo's, though not for the reason you might think. "We've made more money on the Knicks this season than on any other team," he explains. (Voulgaris asked me not to print any figures, but based on the results he showed me, I can confirm that it is indeed a large sum of money.) You see, when Anthony doesn't play, Voulgaris bets big.