Red, white, blue and orange might not be the most aesthetically pleasing of color combinations, but when they do come to mind for SU fans on a day such as America’s birthday, there’s really only one guy that you can point to as the perfect embodiment of all four.
Carmelo Anthony is undoubtedly one of the most successful and influential players to have ever donned the Orange and White. After bringing SU a national title in 2003, he will almost certainly go down as one of the best to ever do it in the Carrier Dome. However, his career since is probably even more impressive than winning a national title and a fairly large part of his legacy is what he has done while representing his country at the Olympics. So, while we celebrate America’s 242nd birthday, let’s take a look back at how Melo has become the greatest Olympic basketball player in the country’s history.
While the 2004 Olympics will always be remembered for the US’s collapse in the semifinal vs Argentina, it should also be marked as Melo’s first big appearance on the international stage. Along with LeBron James, Melo was the only member of the 2004 national team roster that was 20 years old or younger and, thanks in large part to that lack of big game experience in the pros, he played sparingly in Greece. His best game came against Angola in the group stages when he scored 6 points, grabbed 2 rebounds and blocked 3 shots in an 89-53 win. He didn’t see the floor against Argentina in the semifinal and wound up averaging 2.4 points and 1.6 rebounds per game for the tournament. For comparison, LeBron only averaged 5.4 points, 1.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists in that Olympics. All in all, it was a pretty uneventful Olympics for Anthony, but it was just the beginning of his red, white and blue legacy.
With the 2008 Olympic squad dubbed the “Redeem Team”, the US had a lot to make up for when they got to the Chinese capital and this is really where Melo’s greatness on the Olympic stage started to become apparent. The US made mincemeat of its competition, storming to a perfect record in which its closest contest came in an 11-point win over Spain in the gold medal game. Melo was a consistent contributor on the team and was especially impressive in the semifinal win over Argentina, the team he hadn’t had a chance to make a difference against in the 2004 semis. Melo poured in a team-high 21 points and grabbed four boards to lead the Americans to a 20-point win. On the tournament, he averaged 11.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game and won his first Olympic gold medal. The Olympic semifinal was the first true jewel in Melo’s Olympic crown, but it was far from the last or the brightest.
If the 2004 and 2008 started Carmelo’s legacy as the greatest player in the history of US Olympic basketball, then 2012 cemented it. Unlike a lot of other players who choose to end their Olympic careers after two tournaments, Carmelo decided to recommit to the US for 2012 and went on to absolutely dominate. In another 8-0 run on the way to a second gold medal, Melo averaged over 16 points per game, second only to Kevin Durant. The crowning achievement of this tournament was an Olympic-record 37 points in a group stage game versus Nigeria that saw Melo knock down 10 of the 12 threes he took. He also added 4 boards, an assist and a steal en route to what might be the most impressive single-game performance in Olympic history.
If Americans thought heading to his third straight Olympics and winning his second gold medal was impressive for Melo, then they had a whole other thing coming when Carmelo went to four straight and won his third consecutive gold in Brazil in 2016. Unlike London, Rio saw Carmelo in more of a backseat role as the team’s “wily” veteran. Averaging just 12.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, Melo was more of a leader than a dynamic scorer in 2016, but he was still a giant part of the team’s run, especially in the group stages. In a 98-88 comeback win over Australia, Melo led the way for the Americans with 31 points and 8 rebounds that all but guaranteed that the US would go 8-0 for the third straight Olympics. That 31-point game was definitely the most impressive single-game performance of the 2016 Olympics, but the tournament in Rio also solidified Anthony as the all-time leading scorer in US Olympic history. He also holds the American records for games played, field goals made, rebounds, three-point field goals attempted, free throws made and free throws attempted.
He might not have a ring and he might only be a glorified role player with the Thunder in the NBA, but Carmelo Anthony has certainly made solidified his spot as the greatest US Olympic basketball player ever and what better day than America’s birthday to celebrate his legacy.