LOS ANGELES – It’s complicated.
But the day could come soon for the Denver Nuggets and newly retired Carmelo Anthony to finally kiss and make up.
The 10-time NBA All-Star officially retired from the NBA on Monday in a social media video post. Anthony leaves the NBA as ninth in league history in career points with 28,289. The majority of the six-time All-NBA’s selection points, 13,970 to be exact, came in a Nuggets uniform.
Anthony’s retirement brought out salutes from the likes of his superstar close buddies LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. The former Syracuse University star received social media kudos from his college coach Jim Boeheim, USA Basketball, the 2024 Paris Games, the Baltimore Ravens, the Denver Broncos and more. And there was also a nice-to-see sentimental salute from his old Nuggets who wrote, “Thank you for countless memories in Denver. Congrats on a Hall of Fame career.”
“Where it all started. Thank you my Nuggets family,” Anthony, 38, responded on Twitter.
That social media exchange between Anthony and the Nuggets was the most heartwarming moment the two have had since their very bitter divorce in 2011. Nuggets president-governor Josh Kroenke expressed hope to Andscape that the disconnect between the franchise and Anthony could be mended.
“We’re always open to anything with our former players,” Kroenke said before the Nuggets played Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday. “It’s very fresh obviously for him to retire. We’re focused on one thing and one thing only. But I love Carmelo. I love everyone around him. To this day we’ve had a great relationship.
“At some point I’d love to get him back to Denver. Even with the fans there, the ending didn’t go the way they wanted or hoped. But he should be remembered positively because he brought a lot of positives to the Denver community and the basketball community as a whole.”
Anthony was selected third overall by the then-struggling Nuggets in the 2003 NBA draft. Before the Baltimore native’s arrival, Denver was viewed as a laughable franchise that had not been to the NBA playoffs since 1995. The kid with cornrows and a headband changed the franchise by leading the Nuggets to the postseason as a rookie, something James, the No. 1 pick in 2003, didn’t do with the Cleveland Cavaliers. James beat Anthony for the 2004 NBA Rookie of the Year award.
James and Anthony were rivals during their early seasons in the NBA. Then James’ meteoric rise to stardom and championships elevated him to another level.
James said Anthony’s retirement was “bittersweet” for him, but said he knew the announcement was pending because he “shot the video a week ago.”
“That’s one of my best friends when I got into this league, even before I got into this league,” James said after Monday’s Game 4 loss to Denver. “We had so many moments when we were in high school from competing against each other to sitting outside of a hotel room at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning on the steps of a hotel and just talking about our journey up until where we were 17 — I was 16, he was 17 — and what we could possibly do going forward, what we could possibly do for our mothers, what we could possibly do for our families if we just continued to stay focused. I believe we was a driving force for one another. We were locked at the hip since high school. And then you guys saw once we got into the NBA, he was always a motivating factor for me, being in the Western Conference.
“I was in the East. So, I would play our games and then rush home in downtown Cleveland where I had an apartment my first two years in the league, and rushed and turned the Nuggets games on and watched Melo play. All the way to the point where we didn’t make the playoffs my first year, I was in Denver for his first playoff game. You could look that up, too, just in case you think I’m lying about that, too. So definitely [it’s] just a bittersweet moment today to see one of my great friends — I never say call it quits — just to say that … it’s an amazing run. An amazing accomplishment. An amazing career. And you know we just we’ll always be joined at the hip no matter what.”
The city of Denver strongly supported Anthony through numerous issues off the court early in his career. While wearing No. 15, Anthony responded by leading the Nuggets to the postseason every season from 2003 until he was traded in 2010, making three All-Star appearances, and even winning an Olympic gold medal in 2008. Anthony and the Nuggets also lost to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 Western Conference finals.
“I remember Carmelo coming after the one year at Syracuse and coming to Denver and putting it [Denver] on the map in a different way,” Kroenke said. “He was a player Denver hadn’t had in quite some time. His play spoke for itself and he made the playoffs his first year. We had a great run for a long time. The years of Carmelo in Denver should be remembered fondly.”
Former Nuggets general manager Kiki VanDeWeghe, who also played for Denver, selected Anthony over Wade and Chris Bosh, who would go on to Hall of Fame careers. VanDeWeghe views Anthony as the reason for the Nuggets’ return to respectability.
“Carmelo was the centerpiece and the beginning of the Nuggets’ resurgence,” VanDeWeghe said.
Former Nuggets center Marcus Camby, Anthony’s former teammate, told Andscape: “Carmelo was a cornerstone player who turned the Nuggets franchise around in the early 2000s. His play and overall personality helped revolutionize the team and the city.”
Anthony averaged at least 20 points during each of the first 14 seasons of his NBA career and he also had great success with the New York Knicks. From 2017 to 2022, however, Anthony played for the Oklahoma City Thunder, was waived by the Houston Rockets and played for the Portland Trail Blazers and the Lakers. Anthony wasn’t signed during the 2022-23 season.
Nuggets forward Jeff Green, a 14-year NBA veteran, said Anthony had a “huge impact on basketball for me.”
“He is someone I really looked up to,” Green told Andscape. “I’ve never had a chance to tell him that being competitors. I hung with him a lot with Brand Jordan. He is someone I respect to the highest degree. I’m happy for him. I wished he could’ve played more. I think he deserved to play more based on his résumé, what he has done for the league and what he has done for himself and his career.
“Things ended the way they did. But I’m totally, 100% happy for him. He should know the impact he has had on players in the league today.”
Denver’s love for Anthony turned to bitter heartbreak and disdain during the 2010-2011 season when he asked to be traded before potentially becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2011. Anthony got his wish when he was dealt to the New York Knicks on Feb. 22, 2011. The Nuggets remained a playoff team and in the three-team deal acquired Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Kostas Koufos and the rights to swap a 2016 first-round pick with the Knicks. That pick swap was later used to draft University of Kentucky guard Jamal Murray seventh overall. Yes, that Jamal Murray who is scoring big for the Nuggets in this postseason more than 10 years after the trade. Keep in mind that Anthony could have left Denver with nothing in return as a free agent.
Anthony returned to the Pepsi Center for the first time since the trade on March 14, 2013. The Nuggets fans booed Anthony loudly as he was introduced during pregame introductions with the Knicks and throughout the game every time he touched the ball. When Anthony had to depart due to a knee injury after scoring just nine points and missing all five 3-pointers in 21 minutes, Nuggets fans chanted loudly, “Where is Melo?” The Nuggets also didn’t give Anthony his own video tribute upon his return, instead airing a video during a timeout that included him and other players who played for the Knicks and Nuggets including Camby, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Felton.
More than 10 years after the trade, Nuggets fans booed Anthony again in a 2021 first-round playoff series at Ball Arena. Anthony scored 18 points off the bench in the Portland Trail Blazers’ win and appeared confused as to what he could do to win over the old fans.
“I don’t know. I don’t have that answer. I don’t know what it is,” Anthony said then. “I gave it my all when I was here, 7½, eight years. I never said anything bad about the fans, Denver, the organization, players. Never complained, took everything on the chin. Even when it wasn’t my fault, I raised my hand and said, ‘I’ll take the blame for it.’ “
TV analyst Scott Hastings, a former Nuggets center, believes it’s time for Nuggets fans to embrace Anthony again.
“It’s still 50-50 with the Nuggets fans,” Hastings told Andscape. “He was great when he was in Denver and he put the Nuggets back on the map. He needs to be honored for that.”
When an NBA team has a potential Basketball Hall of Famer, it typically does not let a new player wear his jersey number. Even as bitter as Shaquille O’Neal’s trade was from the Lakers to the Miami Heat in 2004, no other Laker wore No. 34 and it was ultimately retired. No one has worn No. 23 in Cleveland since James departed.
Nuggets star Nikola Jokić is a future Hall of Famer in waiting as a two-time NBA MVP, a five-time All-Star and a potential 2023 NBA champion. But while “Joker” is an NBA star, he was a second-round pick when he was drafted in 2014 with more worry about cementing himself as an NBA player than his jersey number. Even so, the Nuggets allowed him to wear Anthony’s old No. 15.
NBA teams typically retire the jersey of their former stars when they make the Hall of Fame. Anthony can be considered for enshrinement in his fifth year of retirement. The Nuggets have retired the jerseys of Alex English, Dan Issel, Fat Lever, David Thompson, Byron Beck and Dikembe Mutombo. And unquestionably, Anthony is one of the Nuggets former stars who should have his jersey retired when he makes the Hoop Hall.
But how do you retire a number that arguably the greatest player in franchise history is wearing and still playing in? Well, NBA teams can make their own rules. The Lakers retired No. 8 and 24 for the late Bryant. The Nuggets can retire No. 15 for Anthony and down the road for Jokić.
Green, VanDeWeghe and Camby all told Andscape that Anthony should have his jersey retired with the Nuggets.
“I hope they are able to retire both of their jerseys. Nikola and Carmelo,” Green said. “I know it can be done and it’s deserving for what he has done for the franchise … Melo really put [the Nuggets] on the map again. I really hope they can come to an understanding so that can happen.”
Said Camby: “Without doubt, the Nuggets will have to hang No. 15 twice, for Carmelo and Joker.”
“Melo’s number should be retired,” VanDeWeghe said.
If the fans boo whenever Anthony returns to Denver, so be it. Such lingering hate is odd and silly 12 years later considering all the other former NBA players who have been traded and mended fences with their former franchises. James Harden could even be returning to the Houston Rockets after asking for a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers.
Whether the Denver fans forgive or not, a Nuggets olive branch will go a long way to rebuilding a relationship that is beneficial to both long term. What can never be taken away is how Anthony made the Nuggets a relevant playoff team again and how he put the franchise on the worldwide map. It’s time for the Nuggets to bring Melo home and embrace him just as he did when they were a hapless franchise in 2003.
As Nuggets coach Michael Malone sees it, Anthony is “always welcome” to be around his team. Expect the franchise to ultimately feel the same way.
“Carmelo is still loved throughout Denver,” Malone said. “He wore that Nuggets jersey with pride and did a lot of great things while in a Denver Nuggets uniform, as well as all the other uniforms he wore in a very illustrious career. When you think of Carmelo, you think of one of the more elite scorers in NBA history, a guy from the D.C. metro area, goes to Syracuse, wins a championship and comes into the NBA and was just a bucket-getter from day one.
“And knowing him a very little bit, obviously congratulations to him on a hell of a career, as he officially announced his retirement, and he’s always welcome. Once a Nugget, always a Nugget. He’s always welcome to come back, and we’d love to have him around at any point in time.”