New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is a 32-year-old small forward chasing his first NBA championship. Which legends won a title after the age of 30?
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Aug 12, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; United States forward Carmelo Anthony (15) looks on during the game Serbia in the preliminary round of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Knicks are committing to a short-term vision that’s rarely proved gratifying for NBA organizations. The long-term vision is quite promising, but over the next two-to-three seasons, the Knicks will attempt to build around a franchise player who’s already 32 years of age.
Though Carmelo Anthony has won at every stage of his illustrious basketball career, the absence of an NBA championship has birthed an underlying sense of concern.
It’s rare that a player wins their first NBA championship on what’s often referred to as the wrong side of 30. It’s not entirely unheard of, but the general consensus is that a player who passes 30 has lost their chance to win a first title as the No. 1 option.
Fortunately for Anthony and the Knicks, there’s a precedent to players discovering their first taste of gold at an advanced NBA age.
Anthony is coming off of a season during which he averaged 21.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 0.9 steals, and 1.5 3-point field goals made per game. His scoring dropped, but he set a career-high in assists per game and vastly improved his defensive consistency.
The question is: why should Knicks fans be optimistic about the team’s chances of winning with Anthony? The history of five legends doing the same suggests it’s plausible.
Jerry West is one of the greatest players to ever grace the NBA hardwood. West is The Logo for a reason, and it’s not just because he’s the one and only player to win Finals MVP in a losing effort—an accolade he achieved in 1969.
Though the rest of his resume is nothing short of sensational, West didn’t solidify it with a championship until he was 34 years of age.
West was surrounded by one of the greatest supporting casts imaginable. Wilt Chamberlain was the interior anchor, Gail Goodrich is an eternally underrated scorer, the late Jim McMillan played a crucial role, and Happy Hairston is a forgotten great role player.
Though he had a clear measure of help, West remained the catalyst for the Los Angeles Lakers’ offensive attack—just see his averages of 25.8 points and 9.7 assists per game.
West led the NBA in assists per game and was named to the All-Defensive First Team in 1971-72. In the 1972 NBA Playoffs, West was second on the Lakers in scoring and first in assists at 22.9 points and 8.9 dimes per game.
Come the NBA Finals, West overcame his poor shooting by contributing as a facilitator and clutch playmaker. The result was his first career title at 34 years of age.
Whenever someone tells you that no one player can lead their team to an NBA championship, point them to 1975. Rick Barry led a genuinely starless Golden State Warriors squad to an improbable title run.
At the time, Barry was 31 years of age—a sign that a small forward who’s past the age of 30 can still win an NBA championship as the No. 1 option.
With a rookie Jamaal Wilkes as his second option, Barry did the unthinkable in 1974-75. He averaged 30.6 points, 6.2 assists, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.9 steals as Golden State secured a 48-34 regular season record.
The only other players in NBA history to average at least 30.0 points, 6.0 assists, and 5.0 rebounds per game: Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Dwyane Wade, and Jerry West.
During the 1975 NBA Finals, Barry averaged 29.5 points in 43.0 minutes per game. Golden State’s second-leading scorer was Wilkes at 11.5 points per game on 32.1 percent shooting from the field, and no one else on the roster even averaged 30 minutes per game during the Finals.
If Barry proved anything, it’s that a player beyond the age of 30 can still win a first NBA championship—and dominate while at it.
If not for Michael Jordan, then more people would likely recognize Clyde Drexler as the legend he is. Drexler led the Portland Trail Blazers to a pair of NBA Finals appearance, where he lost to two icons: Magic Johnson and, of course, Jordan.
It was in 1995, mere weeks before his 33rd birthday, that Drexler won his first NBA championship as the No. 2 player on the Houston Rockets.
Drexler is different from the other four players on this list in the sense that he was the No. 2 option, and not the No. 1. He still had a massive role at the same age as Anthony is now, however, which is why he makes this list.
Drexler finished the 1995 NBA Playoffs with averages of 20.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.5 steals on 48.1 percent shooting from the field.
Anthony doesn’t have a Hakeem Olajuwon, but he does have a Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis is unlikely to be ready to lead the Knicks to a title during his second NBA season, but he has the potential to extend Anthony’s career.
Even if Anthony can’t win as the No. 1 option, helping the Knicks groom Porzingis will give him a chance to play a Drexler-esque role in future seasons.
Perhaps the most appropriate comparison for Carmelo Anthony is Boston Celtics legend Paul Pierce. Both began their careers as dominant scorers, with Pierce eventually sacrificing his scoring for the betterment of the team.
It was in 2008, when Pierce was 31 years of age, that he won his first NBA championship as a member of the Big Three Celtics.
Pierce’s production declined in 2007-08, much as Anthony’s did in 2015-16. One year after averaging 25.0 points per game, Pierce averaged 19.6 points as he shared the spotlight with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
Pierce proceeded to show the world what he was waiting for with averages of 21.8 points and 6.3 assists in the NBA Finals.
Pierce won Finals MVP and a championship as the go-to clutch scorer for the Celtics. Anthony has a chance to play the same role for the New York Knicks if 13-time NBA champion Phil Jackson continues to build with him.
Anthony’s numbers may not be as gaudy as they used to be, but he has the perfect style of play to mirror Pierce’s 2007-08 success with the Celtics.
Dirk Nowitzki led the Dallas Mavericks to one of the greatest and most improbable championship runs in NBA history. Nowitzki was borderline flawless as Dallas defeated both the defending NBA champions and the Big Three Miami Heat.
Here’s the information that you need to know as a fan of Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks: Nowitzki turned 33 years of age just seven days after clinching his first title.
Nowitzki finished the 2011 NBA Playoffs with averages of 27.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He averaged 32.2 points on 55.7 percent shooting during the Western Conference Finals and 25.3 points on 57.4 percent shooting against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Nowitzki averaged 26.0 points and 9.7 rebounds during the NBA Finals as he led Dallas to the first championship in franchise history.
The magic of that team is that the Mavericks didn’t have an established star in their prime beyond Nowitzki. Instead, they had crafty veterans, defensive workhorses, and sharpshooters who weren’t afraid of taking the big shot.
As Nowitzki thoroughly displayed during the 2011 NBA Playoffs, an all-time scorer can find success in the postseason if a couple of fortuitous bounces go in their teammates’ favor.
Whether or not you believe Anthony can lead the Knicks to an NBA championship, a precedent exists.