NEW YORK -- No, it is not easy to feel sorry for a young man with a starlet wife and a killer job to boot, a man booked for a $129 million payday if he decides he wants to take it.
Carmelo Anthony has it all, really. He could have a hundred consecutive bad days at the office, and the billionaire boss that fawns over him, Jim Dolan, will still beg him to take his money in July.
But Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, hey, you were expecting to feel a little bit for the franchise player of the New York Knicks. LeBron James was in the house, and the best ballplayer on the planet is a reminder of everything Anthony doesn't have and, of greater consequence, everything Melo won't likely ever acquire.
James has the two Miami Heat rings, the two reliable sidekicks and the individual talent, basketball IQ, athleticism, and physique that the less gifted and versatile Anthony wishes he had. In pursuit of his first title, and one that would dramatically alter the way the sport perceives him, Melo is expected to be bounced from yet another postseason long before his 30th birthday in late May.
Assuming his Knicks make the postseason, of course.
Only something kinda funny happened on the way to another Eastern Conference pity party for the star whose team had lost 22 of 34 games, and 12 of 17 at home. Anthony borrowed King James' life for four quarters. He was king for a night in the Garden, the place the visiting James had declared "the mecca of basketball, the greatest arena in the world as far as playing the game," before tipoff, as if the gym was his to certify.
The Knicks were actually helping Anthony, making winning plays for him all over the floor while Tyson Chandler was out sick and J.R. Smith, lost cause, was glued to Mike Woodson's bench. Andrea Bargnani, normally a poor man's Chris Bosh, was schooling Bosh on the finer points of offense, Raymond Felton was delivering 14 assists and 13 points, and Amar'e Stoudemire (14 points and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes) was re-emerging as the baseline force Melo thought he was joining back in the day.
"When everybody's doing their job," Anthony said, "it makes the game easier for me."
If he sounded like a guy who wasn't used to having everybody do their jobs, he had his reasons. But after Anthony finished with 29 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and a couple of punctuation jumpers in LeBron's face, he hardly cared that his sad excuse for a partner, Smith, could've used a box of buttered popcorn for this one.
"When you're facing another great person, another great player, it's bound to elevate your game," Melo said of James. "LeBron has something I want and I'm looking forward to that."
He's looking forward to something that might never happen for him. Anthony doesn't have Bosh and Dwyane Wade to stick with in New York, and his free-agent options appear far more limited than they were for James in 2010. Even if Anthony takes a smaller deal with Kobe Bryant's Lakers (assuming Mike D'Antoni is replaced), or attempts to force a sign-and-trade with the Clippers, the Western Conference is loaded from top to middle, offering no easy path to a parade.
His contemporary, James, no longer has to sweat such things. "I came to Miami to win," he said before his 32 points were compromised by his six turnovers in the 102-92 loss.
"Money didn't make me happy," James continued. "Winning made me happy, and it still does. At the end of the day, that's what matters to me. Where can I put myself in position to win and win for a long time, and that's part of the reason why I came here."
Given that James called Anthony "one of my greatest friends that I have," he was asked what advice he would give Melo when the time comes to stay or go.
"Whatever makes him happy," James said. "You've got to do whatever makes him happy at the end of the day. If you're happy, the game of basketball is going to be fun for you. Strive to be great every day, and you can live with whatever else happens."
James didn't specifically recommend that Anthony take less-than-max money the way he did to escape his middling supporting cast in Cleveland and land among the stars in Miami ("The way I live my life don't work for everybody," he said).
He did, however, throw some cold water on the notion that Anthony's ring ceremony is within reach, perhaps only one smart business decision away.
"I know he wants to win it," James said. "I know he can win. ... He's trying to figure out the way to do it. There are so many great teams, so many great players, it can become challenging at times."
Especially when the flawed roster props up the likes of J.R. Smith -- not Dwyane Wade -- as a complementary piece. Smith finally got his from his chief enabler, Woodson, who found out the hard way that coddling an immature player only leads to continued immature conduct. As angry as the coach is at his guard, refusing to even speak about him in pre- and postgame news conferences, Woodson should be mad at himself for letting Smith be Smith for so long.
With J.R. down and out, no more useful to the Knicks than his dispatched brother Chris, Anthony is left to hope that either Iman Shumpert or Tim Hardaway Jr. flowers into a star. Shumpert is the better bet, especially if he keeps making threes, but Hardaway does look more explosive as a pro than he did at Michigan, as evidenced by his one-handed rebound and slam against Miami that left the Garden shaking.
"They played great," James said. The Knicks had lost all 17 of their games they'd trailed at halftime before Thursday night, when they claimed their fourth victory over Miami in five tries since the start of last season and proved they're no longer what Anthony had called them earlier this year:
The laughingstock of the league.
"We're starting to believe in one another again," Anthony said.
Maybe, maybe not. At 13-22, the Knicks aren't ready to call City Hall and map out the parade route just yet.
But for their franchise player, this was a sweet reprieve of sorts, a chance to escape the cruel fact that LeBron James has everything he wants, and everything he'll probably never get. If nothing else, Carmelo Anthony was King James for a night.