The last time the New York Knicks won a playoff series, a 15-year-old Carmelo Anthony had just finished his growth spurt. While the Knicks were outlasting the Miami Heat in the 2000 Eastern Conference semifinals in seven games, thanks to a phantom timeout call awarded to Latrell Sprewell (who admitted he hadn’t called one), young Carmelo Anthony was adjusting to what was happening to his body. He had grown four inches in less than a year, transforming from a skinny point guard to a massive Über-prospect who towered over his classmates at Towson Catholic High School outside Baltimore.
Carmelo remembers watching those games, when he’d return home after the 45-minute commute to the Baltimore projects known as “The Pharmacy,” made famous in HBO’s The Wire. “Patrick Ewing was the man,” he says to me. “Though mostly I just remember Spike [Lee].”
Of the seventeen men who played in that Game 7, only two are still in the NBA (Kurt Thomas, a backup forward with the Bulls, and Anthony Carter, currently Carmelo’s teammate with the Knicks). Between that night, May 21, 2000, and Sunday’s NBA playoffs Game One against the Boston Celtics, 3,984 days will have passed. During that time, the Knicks have hosted eight playoff games, winning only three. Since Carmelo, a four-time All-Star, entered the league in 2003, his former team, the Denver Nuggets, has never missed the postseason, and Anthony has played in a total of 45 playoff games. During that same period, the Knicks played four playoff games and lost each one. For the past six seasons, during the NBA playoffs, the Garden has gone dark.
Among the many attributes Carmelo has brought to this success-famished Knicks franchise, one of the less heralded is the basic fact that, to him, the playoffs are a normal, obvious progression from the regular season, rather than something you have to pinch yourself about to believe is really happening. Knicks fans are doing backflips that there are real, live playoff games to watch. That the last decade of pain—amazing, comical, ridiculous pain—has led to a return to relevance.