- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Eleven years ago, we were crowded into a hotel conference room in downtown Chicago to meet the future millionaires of the National Basketball Association.
The 2003 draft would turn out to be the best one since 1984, and we knew then this was a special group.
Naturally, LeBron James, the most famous high school student in the country, had his own news conference the next day.
One remembers a young Carmelo Anthony, the biggest star in the room in James' absence, wearing a long white T-shirt, as was the style at the time, and a watch he claimed, if memory serves, cost $80,000.
When he was asked if he was comfortable about going No. 3 to Denver, Anthony replied, "I think I should go 1, but things happen."
As if the Cleveland Cavaliers would bypass Akron's finest for anyone. But you had to respect Anthony's attitude. Why settle for No. 2? (Or No. 3, if you count Darko Milicic.)
James was the no-brainer No. 1 and he became a megastar, a two-time champion and a polarizing face of the league as he moved from his hometown to Miami.
Meanwhile, Anthony, polarizing in his own regard, built a reputation as a pure scorer, perhaps the best in the league this side of Kobe Bryant. His trade from Denver to New York brought some success, but his experience as a big-market one-man show has been nothing likes James' run.
James and Anthony are good friends, but there's nothing that the NBA loves more than a rivalry.
So let's stir it up. James has two rings and has played in five NBA Finals. Anthony has none and has made it to a conference finals series once, in Denver. James is a year younger and Anthony is in the unenviable position of chasing a championship at 30.
We could argue over the merits of the relatively recent trend of "ring chasing" before retirement, but it's a fact of life in the NBA. No one wants to end his career like Karl Malone and Charles Barkley, greats of their era who were denied the ultimate limelight.
I'm not one for legacy talk, I find it an utter waste of time, but if Anthony still thinks he's the first pick over James, then he should do what James did in 2010 and leave for a better chance to win a title. Because life should be lived in the present.
Yes, the Knicks have Phil Jackson. But there is nothing else in New York that promises a championship next year or in the ensuing two or three seasons. What's the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?
James was pilloried for how he left Cleveland in 2010, but he was right to do it. James took the reins of his own career and it worked.
So forget the history books. Anthony should just want to enjoy winning a title in the present. And not just kissing a trophy. It's the journey.
Far be it from me to give Anthony career advice, but leaving New York for Chicago is his best option. Straight cash, notwithstanding.
Until he wins a title, Anthony will always be second fiddle to James (not to mention Wade) from the 2003 class. That's not bad company to keep, of course. Anthony is a millionaire many times over and a hero for a generation of basketball fans.
Ask a dozen Chicago high school basketball players who their favorite player is, and I bet you'll hear Anthony's name more than Derrick Rose's. I've done it.
Anthony wouldn't be in Rose's shadow in Chicago. He'd just share the limelight.
So if the chance to win a championship drives Anthony over the chance to make a max deal, then he should come to Chicago.
We'll know soon enough about his choice. Anthony officially opted out of the last year of his contract Monday and will be a free agent starting July 1.
His decision, lowercase, will be the main NBA storyline over the next few weeks, as long as James stays in Miami, that is.
Melo will have his moment. It's a decision that could have ripple effects across the league, especially if he picks Chicago and especially if the Bulls can keep power forward Taj Gibson.
Rose, Anthony, Joakim Noah and Gibson would be a formidable core of a team capable of a multi-championship run. If you don't think Anthony would fit in with Chicago's culture, think again.
If you don't think Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau desperately wants to add a star like Anthony, you're nuts. No one in the NBA wants to win more every night than Thibodeau. He'd be a perfect coach for Anthony, and I think the forward knows it.
Anthony was spotted in some pictures from Paris via Scottie Pippen's wife, Larsa, who is a friend of Anthony's wife, former MTV VJ Lala Anthony. Scottie is the special adviser to Bulls president and COO Michael Reinsdorf. One assumes he's been recruiting Anthony, not that the current star will listen to anyone but himself.
In a phone conversation about the upcoming World Basketball Festival, which will be held in Chicago in August, U.S. national team coach Mike Krzyzewski chuckled when asked if he would give a recruiting pitch for Chicago.
"Wherever Carmelo goes, they'll be very lucky," he said. "He's been one of our key players for the United States. He's really been the ultimate team player for us. Even in London, I asked him to come off the bench because I wanted to start one group and I thought he'd give us firepower and experienced national play off the bench, just like Wade in Beijing. Melo said: 'Coach, whatever you want to do. I just want to win.' That's the kind of guy he is, he's a warrior. I'd want him on any team."
Now, Melo isn't coming off the bench in Chicago, nor would Thibodeau ask him to be a facilitator. Thibodeau wants a scorer to take the pressure off Rose and give the Bulls a fourth-quarter scorer who can't be shut down by bigger defenders.
Krzyzewski said Anthony has been typecast as a volume scorer because that's what coaches have wanted from him. He "scores the ball," as coaches say. With the Bulls, he'd still have to score, but he could share the load with Rose.
"He's basically had to do what he's had to do," Krzyzewski said. "Carmelo will adjust. These guys want to win. He wants to win a championship. He's won one in college, he's won one for the U.S. These guys want to win in the NBA."
You can't discount the money factor.
Anthony would likely have to take a multimillion dollar haircut to keep the Bulls competitive at a championship level, and given that he's making the sacrifice of leaving New York, where he's raising a family, that's no certainty. It sounds easy to those of us without millions, but there's a respect factor for those who can make it.
Anthony can still re-sign with New York for more cash, but one wonders if he can make more from his sponsorship deal with Jordan Brand in Chicago.
Yes, New York is the media capital of the world, and yes, Nike will still sell gear in Chicago until the end of time because of Michael's legacy, but wouldn't Jordan Brand like to get an active player in Chicago again, especially with Rose, and now Noah, shilling for adidas?
Regardless of where he ends up, Anthony will go down as one of the greatest players of his era. When the history of this era is written, Anthony will always be looked at as No. 2 to James, that's no question.
But Anthony could make his own history in Chicago, where he once made a bold proclamation about how he sees himself.
If a title and taking control of his career are more important than a max deal, Carmelo Anthony will pick the Chicago Bulls this summer.