LONDON — Can angry detractors in Denver ever let go of their hate for Carmelo Anthony, a man who has played a major role restoring pride in American basketball?
The hard-earned 107-100 victory over Spain that earned Team USA the gold medal was born six years earlier out of dejection on a court in Japan, where Anthony and teammate LeBron James dealt with the reality they had lost a semifinals game to Greece, better know for urns than dunks. Greece? Really?
"If you go back and look at the pictures, you'll see me and LeBron were the only two left on the court. We stayed for their celebration. It was a bad feeling," Anthony recalled Sunday. "We got back to the States, and (James) asked me: "Are you locked in?' And I told him: 'Yeah, I'm locked in.' "
Nearly 18 months after forcing a trade from the Nuggets, Melo is called many nasty names in Colorado:
Well, now that he owns a second Olympic gold medal, here's a new way to describe Anthony:
True hoops patriot who bleeds red, white and blue.
After combining forces with coach Mike Krzyzewski in 2006, James and Anthony went to work on restoring the image of basketball in the USA, at a time when it was an unpopular choice, with catcalls to erase any signs of NBA influence from the Olympics.
"When Coach K came on board, we talked for hours," Anthony said. "He told us it was going to be a commitment, it was going to be a journey, but it was going to be a fun journey."
Even with an intense U.S. focus on winning, the most famous coach in America and a roster point guard Chris Paul calls the best team he will ever direct, gold is no longer a given for the Team USA. It required 30 points from Kevin Durant and a 10-2 run early in the fourth quarter to fend off Spain, with brothers Pau and Marc Gasol playing with so much passion it seemed to be as much about family pride as national spirit.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy. We didn't want it easy," said James, who finished with 19 points and seven rebounds after a first half when he never quite got in the flow. "A lot of teams have won gold easy. We didn't want it that way."
With Team USA, Anthony thrives off the ball, constantly seeking the space to provide instant offense. Catch. Shoot. Swish. This is a less-can-be-more lesson. You wonder if it can stick to Melo once he returns home to the New York Knicks.
"There's only one thing that's missing for me, which is the NBA championship," Anthony said. "I've had the chance to win a championship in high school, college and two gold medals, so my next goal is to win an NBA championship."
Anthony is well aware that in Denver there remains acrimony for him that's harder than the Rocky Mountains.
In the hours before fellow U.S. teammate Andre Iguodala was traded from Philadelphia to the Nuggets during the Olympic tournament, he sought input from Anthony on living in the forgotten time zone.
"He asked me about how it was in Denver. And I told him he would love playing out there. The fans are great. I got a chance to get close with Josh Kroenke and Masai Ujiri; they are great dudes, great guys," Anthony said. "Also, with the team they have, the Nuggets play a fast-paced game. They get up and down the court. And that's Uguodala's game."
OK, now for the tough question: What did Melo tell Iguodala about playing for Nuggets coach George Karl?
"I didn't really say anything about George," said Anthony, laughing. "He didn't ask me about him."
Mark Kiszla: 303-954-1053, email@example.com or twitter.com/markkiszla