NEW YORK -- They started standing in Madison Square Garden 15 minutes before the game Wednesday, when a faraway shot of the Knicks' hallway huddle was shown on the JumboTron. They stayed standing, some 19,000 strong, while Carmelo Anthony went through warmups and grooved to "STAT and Melo," a remix of Wiz Khalifa's Black and Yellow. And they gave Anthony a thundering ovation when his spot in the lineup was announced. Carmelo Anthony may have been excited to be in New York, but no more than New York was excited to have him.
This is what they wanted, city and player. Anthony wanted to play in a big market -- a big East Coast market, if possible -- and play on a team with a chance to win. New York won't win a championship this season, but with Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire it has the building blocks of a potential dynasty. A couple of good drafts, a free agent or two, maybe another big deal (hello, Chris Paul), and the Knicks should be in business.
The fans wanted it, too. They liked Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Wilson Chandler. And Timofey Mozgov was starting to grow on them. But Anthony? They love Anthony. Late Monday night, when news of the deal first broke, a cluster of weary people waiting in a cab line at JFK airport clutching BlackBerrys burst out in a staggered cheer. On Wednesday, it wasn't just the Garden that was sold out for the Knicks' 114-108 victory against the Bucks; outside the arena hundreds of fans, some carrying hand-made signs with messages to Anthony, pressed near the building to watch the game on the big screens hanging from the walls.
Carmelo's team, Amar'e's team...who cares? Fans here love them both equally. As long as they win, of course. See, the fans gave Stephon Marbury a standing ovation, too. They cheered even louder when he was traded out of town. They stood behind Eddy Curry for a while. Then they made him a punch line.
Knicks fans are fed up with losing. They have had to endure Isiah Thomas, the executive, the coach and now the far-reaching influence who continues to meddle in the organizations affairs. At Anthony's introductory news conference before the game, owner James Dolan called Thomas "a good friend" but emphatically denied that New York's former president and coach had any voice in the Anthony deal. A good sound bite, sure, but Thomas, when asked directly this week if he had any role in the Knicks' courtship of Anthony, offer up a bland "no comment."
Whatever. However it happened, Anthony is a Knick and he and Stoudemire have one mandate now: win. And that will take time. Throw out Wednesday's sloppy win over Milwaukee. Anthony looked nervous despite scoring 27 points, and coach Mike D'Antoni was explaining plays to new point guard Chauncey Billups as he was bringing the ball up the floor. More than once, Billups and Anthony made eye contact and ran a play from their Denver days.
"There were a few times we looked at each other and we just didn't know the plays," Billups said. "So I just said to him, 'Let's do what we do.' "
Billups will learn the offense. Anthony, too. Figuring out how to play with their new teammates -- Stoudemire in particular -- may be a little more difficult. Both Anthony and Stoudemire like the ball in their hands and when it gets there, often times it won't come back out. It will be incumbent on each to change, to adjust his game so it better fits the system.
"We can work on some of it," D'Antoni said. "Some of [the time] it's going to stop in great hands. We'll find out as we go on. Amar'e will get his touches [and] we'll get it to where everybody's good. When they are all on the same page, it makes it a lot easier.
"I think it's pretty obvious to the players ... that we're going to be pretty potent offensively. We have a lot of solutions to be a lot smoother and a lot better. If we can continue to guard as a team and rebound in these next 27 games, if we continue to improve defensively, we can be good."
Just how good remains to be seen. When Anthony went to the free-throw line late in the fourth quarter, the crowd showered him with "Me-lo" chants. When Billups went to the line a few plays later, those chants were "Chauncey-Billups." In New York, they adore the new stars now. How long it continues is entirely up to them.