PHILADELPHIA — Carmelo Anthony makes his first trip back to Madison Square Garden on Saturday since being traded in September, and with a pregame video tribute planned, Anthony said it will be an “emotional” night.
“Walking in there, it’ll be a little emotional, because from the standpoint, that’s home,” he said. “Being back in there, being on the other side, running out the other side of the tunnel, seeing people that I became close with, seeing my family that I can’t really much right now because I’m in Oklahoma City — my son, my wife — seeing them, having them be there is very important. So I think it’ll be a fun game, a fun night. Emotional as far as excited being back on that court.”
Anthony was dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott, ending monthslong drama with the New York Knicks that began with then-team president Phil Jackson publicly stating his desire to trade Anthony. With a list narrowed down to only a few teams, Anthony waived his no-trade clause to accept a deal to the Thunder.
But as he heads back to New York, with the Knicks playing well as they rally around new franchise player Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony said he feels the atmosphere will be more about appreciation than any animosity.
“It’s not like I was there for a year or two seasons,” he said. “I mean, I spent a lot of time there, almost seven years. It was great times, it was bad times, but regardless, I always stuck with it, I always remained professional, I always came and did my job whether people liked me or not, so hopefully they recognize that.”
Jackson and Anthony clashed over playing style and offensive system, with Jackson looking to install the triangle, something that didn’t mesh well with Anthony. With Jackson fired over the summer, there was a feeling the Knicks could break away from that system, and Anthony could find success in something else had he stayed.
“I believe that. I believe that,” he said. “It’s something that we actually talked about in the summer. This summer we talked about it when I was with those guys before everything went down. We were training together, we actually talked about what this season could be. I think the damage was done at that point. It was just right, better for both parties to split that way.”
Anthony played for the Knicks for seven seasons and helped bring a resurgence and energy to the franchise, albeit with inconsistent results.
“How could I not miss New York?” Anthony said. “I became entrenched into not just the Knicks, but the city as a whole. Those are my roots, the people there, I became one of them. I’ve embraced New York City, I embraced the culture, embraced everything about the city, so yeah, definitely.”
For the Thunder, it’ll cap a three-game road trip that started with Paul George returning to Indiana and then saw a triple-overtime win in Philadelphia on Friday, when Anthony played his best game of the season. But with him returning to maybe the most famous court in basketball, there’s an expectation Anthony was just setting the stage for a big night at MSG.
“It’s always a show. Coming back to the Garden is always a show,” he said. “Of course I want to win. I want to win for many reasons. I want to win because I’m on the opposite team now. I want to win because we have a chance to sweep this road trip. And then I just want to win. It’ll be fun to win back in the Garden now that I’m on another team and knowing the things we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to create and where we’re trying to go as a team.”
The Knicks have been one of the season’s early surprises at 15-13, and they sit in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. Anthony said he has stayed in touch with a number of players on the team, but he hasn’t been tracking their every game.
“Look, we all got to move on, man. We all got to move on,” he said when asked if he’s surprised the Knicks are over .500. “Those guys, from what I’m hearing, the little bit that I’ve seen, are playing well. They found their team for right now. The players they have on the team are fitting in very well. They’re having fun, they’re enjoying the game. I’m pretty sure they done moved on from me. I’m focused on Oklahoma City right now. But that will always be a part of me. New York will always be a part of me.”
Ian Begley contributed to this report.