´New York Knicks and Team USA star Carmelo Anthony made headlines during the Olympics by claiming that once he retires he’ll be able to look back and say he had a great career, even if he finishes without winning an NBA Title. Anthony mentioned his NCAA Championship won at Syracuse and his opportunity (which was successful) at becoming the first male to win three Olympic gold medals in basketball as accolades which substantiate his career success. However, Anthony was criticized by many, most notably by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith (whose comments can be found here), for accepting a title-less career.
I’d like to start out by saying that I found Smith’s hot take, where at one point he responds to Anthony’s comments by lambasting, “in what damn world could you possibly say such a thing?” incredibly infuriating. To Smith’s credit, he later apologized for his statements after having a conversation with Anthony, realizing that Anthony remains hungry to capture his first title. However, even if Anthony retires without lifting the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy, he has nothing to apologize for: he has had a great career.
By no means does a great career require having won a championship. Many NBA greats and Hall-of-Famers were never NBA champions, including Elgin Baylor, Karl Malone, John Stockton, and Charles Barkley. One would be insane to even suggest these names aren’t among the greatest to ever play the game. Additionally, never in Anthony’s original comments did it suggest he felt content with never having won a title. He isn’t being complacent. Instead, he looks to a few of his most memorable accomplishments. Anthony’s achieved many honors during his likely Hall-of-Fame career, including being named an All-Star nine times and making the All-NBA teams six times. He’s a career 25 point per game scorer who led the league in scoring in 2013. Anthony has clearly had a great career. However, I’d also like to suggest that Anthony’s critics are almost criminally undervaluing his three Olympic gold medals. So what is more valuable: an NBA title or Olympic gold?
On the surface, the answer might seem clear. Basketball is a sport much like tennis and golf, where the Olympics isn’t seen as the pinnacle of the sport. Instead of tennis and golf’s majors, the NBA is the most prestigious league in the world, with most of the world’s best players. A championship in the NBA requires traveling across the country, playing roughly every other night through a grueling 82-game season just to advance to the playoffs and then winning four best-of-seven series against the top teams in the world. They don’t just hand out rings…or do they?
The 2014-15 Golden State Warriors were led to the franchise’s first title in 40 years by superstar Stephen Curry, and other pivotal pieces such as Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. However, also on this team was Ognjen Kuzmic, who you’ve probably never heard of, and James Michael McAdoo, who’s been nothing more than a bench warmer since he left North Carolina. Every member of the championship team gets a ring, regardless of how many minutes they play or their importance to the team. The worst player in the league can technically win a dozen rings if he gets passed around from superstar team to superstar team. The worst player in the league cannot make the US Men’s Basketball Team.
What people are overlooking about the Olympics is how big of an honor it is to even make the team. While injuries and Zika kept a significant amount of players off the team, what remained was still a team full of superstars. To be named to the Olympic roster means you are one of the greatest basketball players in the world. For Anthony to be named to the team on four separate occasions means that for at least 12 years straight, he’s been one of the stars of American basketball. In Rio, as the eldest player on the team and one of only two players with previous experience, Anthony relished the opportunity to lead his country and capture one final gold medal before retiring from international play. Of course, these successes can’t replace the hole in Anthony’s career résumé of having a title, but it’s also a unique accomplishment only he has. He is the only man ever with three Olympic golds, and he did so on teams the entire world tried to beat.
So, what’s more valuable: a single ring or three gold medals? Most people would probably say a ring, but gold is a far more exclusive club, with new entrants only once in four years. Winning multiple requires a continued dominance of the sport across many years. It’s up to your personal opinion as to which you’d rather have achieved, but one thing is certain- Carmelo Anthony has had a great career, and he’s earned the right to say it.