Billie Basquetbaal's post, "The Ballad of Carmelo Anthony" is a beautiful discussion of race, image, and the Lig. It's the best blog I've read so far this year. Much recommends to hop over and read it before scanning my take.
Here it is: I love the analysis. Yet I would put caution on the conclusions.
Billie does a wonderul job developing all of Melo's paradoxes, but she treats Carmelo as powerless, as having no ability to influence his image. Yet the story only gets more complicated and interesting when we appreciate how Carmelo has agency. How Melo conforms and rebels against those images. Melo relishes in those corn-rows even as he rejects the "thug." Melo does not just emulate the Birds or the Bernards, he also borrows from "street ball."
The point is: Melo fuses these identities. He plays with them. They are not just confining. And they are also not new to Melo's generation. Dr. J, Oscar, Pistol Pete, the wonder of basketball has been in its fusions.
Basketball beautifully weaves together different languages: the Cornfield jumpshot with the NYC cross-over, the Canadian can-do of Nashie with the American reach-highing of Amare, the military discipline of Pop with the hippie-chatter of Phil, the flop from the courts in Rio with the chair-pulling from the courts at the Y, the explosive vitreal of a Knight with the solid construction of the Wooden pyramids.
The Lig develops and evolves through the creative mixin of all the different games. Dwight brings Shaq's size with Kemp's ups Lebron marries Magic's court vision with Michael's super-hero'ry. Joakim is Anderson Varajeo with a trust fund. CP3 is new generation Zeke. And maybe DWill can win those championships JKidd should have.
As for Melo. You describe Melo's background:
His is the modern rags-to-riches story, one shared in differing degrees by many professional athletes. Raised poor in Baltimore by a single mother, he played his way out to Syracuse where he single-handedly won a national championship, then left to be picked third in one of the best drafts in basketball history, behind names that already resonate in the history of the NBA.
This description itself is a fiction. It muffles the suffering; it romanticizes the journey. Questions of his laziness and his tendency to be easily discouraged are not fictions. They may be overstatements, but they are not simply co-opted from stereotypes of "blackness." Don't forget that Melo really struggled in his sophomore season in the Lig. He got frustrated and his game suffered. It was not only fans', but his own expectations he didn't reach.
Melo is flawed. All players are. Even Jordan. Remember that little baseball stint? Jordan was a spell-binding character because he was super-human and all too flawed. He was even...a long time ago...a ball-hog. We tend to play up the "best player ever" and play down the tragic arrogance.
Part of the beauty of basketball is seeing how these young men grow up, how they face and deal with the difficulties. [Update with a link: Shoals, wearing his Free Darko hat, beautifully captures the tension in this post on Gerald Green.
How will they astound and how will they disappoint?
How they have corrupted the game AND how they have made the game better than ever.