Carmelo Anthony made some headlines the other day by overtaking Kevin Durant in the scoring race by fractions of a point, in the same game where his Knicks stole an important road victory from Durant’s Thunder in OKC. But over the NBA three-day weekend, he also overtook another superstar for a less-recognized, but arguably even more interesting honor: That of the best-selling jersey in the NBA. Melo’s No. 7 for the Knicks overtook LeBron James’ No. 6 for the Heat for top honors, up from the No. 4 spot he held the year before.
Jersey sales rankings are an interesting thing in sports, since it’s the closest thing most leagues have to something resembling, say, a Billboard singles chart — something that comes close to measuring pure popularity, without making any attempt at an objective ranking of player skill or whatever. There are other factors at play besides how popular the player is, sure — how popular the team is plays a big part, and for the more discerning jersey shoppers, there might be aesthetic concerns with the color schemes and logos, and possibly semiotic concerns with the signifiers of the player and team represented. But other factors aside, if there’s a better way to measure player popularity in the NBA, I dunno what it is.
So what does it mean that Melo took over from LeBron? Well, first off, it’s worth pointing out that LeBron was not actually No. 1 in jersey sales at the end of last year’s regular season. As a matter of fact, he was all the way down at No. 4, possibly a result of his dip in popularity after losing in the 2011 Finals, and with the initial surge of sales from when he switched teams in the 2010 offseason having died down. It says something about the year LeBron is having (and the postseason/Olympics he had as well) that he had climbed up to No. 1 at all, showing that without the distractions of his choker reputation and the fallout from “The Decision,” LeBron’s play has been stellar enough (and his PR efforts smooth enough) to allow him to be an arguable candidate for the league’s Most Popular Player honors once more.
But now LeBron has fallen to Carmelo, and I think the reasons are two-fold. One, this has been the best season of Anthony’s career — both in an individual sense (highest PER ever, possibly his first scoring title) and in the team sense, as he’s on pace to at least challenge the 54-28 record his Nuggets team had in 2008-’09, and even then the recently arrived Chauncey Billups got the lion’s share of the credit. There’s a sense of pride in Carmelo and the Knicks — especially in New York, obviously — that always had to be tempered with “yes, but…” type qualifiers about Melo’s bonafides as a team player, his ability to win, etc. This is arguably Melo’s first year of unreserved true superstardom, and it makes sense that his jersey sales would reflect that.
And the less sweeping, narrative-oriented (but equally important) factor is the team Melo plays for. In the last five years, even the lean ones, the Knicks have always had a player in the top 15 of jersey sales, with such non-stars as David Lee, Jeremy Lin and even Nate Robinson making the cut in different years. Anthony is surely a big enough name to spur jersey sales no matter where he plays for, but without the Big Apple backdrop, it’s unlikely he’d be able to challenge superstars like LeBron and Kevin Durant. (Even during that make-good 2009 season in Denver, ‘Melo only finished No. 15 in jersey sales, an insulting seven spots below NateRob.)
It’s far too little, too late for Melo (or anyone else) to pass LeBron in the MVP race, but this seems like a fair consolation prize. Plus, it’s a tight jersey. I love the Knicks orange-and-blue, and No. 7 feels much more solid a number for Anthony than his old No. 15. (Not to mention the number’s history in classic New York sports, of which George Costanza would undoubtedly approve.) Maybe I’ll pick one up myself next time I’m at MSG. Or I would if the combination of Knicks tickets and a Carmelo jersey wouldn’t cost me about a fifth of my yearly income. Approximately.
Anyway, some other things I found mildly interesting from this year’s Top 15, which you can see in full here:
Read the rest of this entry »