DENVER – Even in the snow, Denver Nuggets fan Vicki Ray has stood outside the old McNichols Sports Arena and the Pepsi Center in all but two home games over 20 years to welcome players with signs as they arrive. Ray loves her Nuggets, but on Wednesday night she held up a sign that read, "We still love Melo," as the New York Knicks' bus arrived.
She was in the minority of Nuggets fans that still love 'Melo in Denver.
The Knicks were blown out, 117-94, and the ex-Nuggets star was strongly booed from pregame on before bowing out to knee injury in his first return in over two years since receiving a demanded trade to New York, a move that still doesn't sit well with the locals not named Vicki Ray.
Anthony departed with a sore right knee in the third quarter and didn't return. The All-Star missed three straight games with the injury before playing at Golden State on Monday. He is returning to New York to get his knee drained and is uncertain when he will play again.
"It started stiffening up," Anthony said."There were some movements I couldn't make. Moving laterally, I didn't feel like I had any pop, any power. So I tried it in the second half, coming back after halftime, and I couldn't move out there. I'm going to get it drained, get the fluid out, get to the bottom of it quickly so I can get back on the court."
Nuggets fans chided him after he departed, loudly chanting, "We want Melo,""Where is Melo?" and "Who needs Melo." Anthony struggled in his 21 minutes of play, finishing with nine points on 3-of-12 shooting from the field while missing all five 3-point attempts. The Knicks also lost starting center Tyson Chandler for the game in the second quarter to a left knee contusion, but he is probable for Thursday's game at Portland. New York, losers of three of their past four games, also have likely lost forward Amar'e Stoudemire for the regular season due to a recent knee injury.
Knicks forward Marcus Camby says Anthony would have taken the night off if it wasn't Denver.
"He's out there hobbling in the Golden State game," Camby told Yahoo! Sports. "And tonight he was hobbling up and down the court. Being in this altitude didn't help either. We only play here once. He got the [return] game over with. When he comes back next season he can just relax and play the ballgame."
The Nuggets organization took the high road amid the vitriol, offering a "Thank You For the Memories" video tribute in the first quarter to Anthony and other ex-Nuggets in Camby, Kenyon Martin, Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith. Even Nugget owner Stan Kroenke visited Anthony after the game in the Knicks' locker room.
The classy gestures didn't seem to help as Nuggets fans booed Anthony every time he touched the ball and when he was on the free-throw line. Cheers came only when Anthony committed a foul or had a miscue.
"I don't pay no attention to that," Anthony said.
The Nuggets were a laughingstock before they drafted Anthony third overall out of Syracuse in 2003. Denver won just 17 games the previous season and missed the playoffs eight straight years. Anthony turned the Nuggets around as they have made the playoffs every season since. The love affair for Anthony ended after he demanded a trade to New York and eventually got it after seven-plus seasons in Denver, where he was a four-time All-Star and one of the league's most popular players.
Maybe the Nuggets fans should've cheered Anthony considering they own a 100-57 record since his departure. Denver is on a 10-game win streak and has won 14 in a row at home.
"We've been winning games, playing good basketball, but Miami is getting most of the attention," Nuggets forward Andre Iguodala said. "I'm just fine with flying under the radar."
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Ex-Nuggets coaching legend Doug Moe, who has a banner hanging in the Pepsi Center rafters in his honor, was in attendance Wednesday with an old Anthony jersey in hand that he hoped to get signed for his granddaughter. Moe believes it's a no-brainer that Anthony, the franchise's third all-time leading scorer, should have his Denver jersey retired and hanging from the rafters, too. But by the bitter reception from the Nuggets fans on this night, a lot of time will be needed for healing and forgiveness before that ceremony takes place.
"I wish the outcome could have been a little bit different," Anthony said, "but it is what it is."
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