As someone who takes comic book culture very seriously, I think it’s imperative that every hero has his perfect foil, an adversary that poses a serious threat and must be defeated soundly for victory to be declared. In comic book terms, Batman has the Joker, Spider-Man has Doctor Octopus, and the X-Men had Magneto. In basketball terms, Bird had Magic, the 90s Knicks had Jordan, and the entire city of Cleveland has LeBron.
In their still-blossoming rivalry with each other, the Knicks and Nets have played two hard-fought, high-spirited games with each other where heroes have emerged for both sides. But from the perspective of Nets fans, a true supervillain has emerged – someone who is guaranteed to torment the Brooklyn franchise for years to come.
What’s so frightening about Carmelo Anthony, is not only what a talented basketball player he is, but the fact that he shares a number of traits with some of the comic book world’s most heinous villains.
While his defensive game still earns some well-warranted knocks, ‘Melo has consistently been one of the top offensive players in the NBA since his rookie season in 2003. His Player Efficiency Rating has never dropped below 19.0 since the 2008-09, season and through 20 games played of the 2012-13 season, Anthony is putting together his best campaign yet, averaging career highs in PER, true shooting percentage, and effective field goal percentage. By playing him routinely as a small PF, Mike Woodson has unleashed a more offensively efficient version of Anthony who is creating match-up nightmares for the majority of the NBA. In two games against the Nets, he’s scored 35 and 45 points. Yes, he missed a last-second jumper to win the game when the team’s first met on November 26 (a game the Nets would win), but he was completely unstoppable when the two teams met again last week. Even with defensive stalwart Gerald Wallace guarding him.
Supervillain equivalent: Doctor Doom. Doom may be one of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s most diabolical creations – a truly bitter, hateful man with immense physical power and intellect to boot. But despite this mix of strength and smarts, the Fantastic Four, when working together, has always found a way to prevail against Doom. Additionally, while ‘Melo playing PF may seem similar to when Doom was able to steal the Demi-God-like powers of the omnipotent Beyonder during the Secret Wars saga, watch closely when Amar’e Stoudemire returns to the Knicks lineup. Eventually the Beyonder was able to use Doom’s own hubris against him to steal his powers back.
I’m paraphrasing here and I can’t seem to find the exact quote, but following the Knicks three-point victory over the Nets last week, Anthony was interviewed by a sideline reporter and said that when the two teams met previously and the Knicks lost, it had nothing to do with anything the Nets did to stop him. Nets fans on forums everywhere fumed. Anthony smiled.
Supervillain equivalent: Juggernaut. Did you know nothing can stop the Juggernaut? Of course you did, because he says it every time he’s in battle. And yet someone always inevitably stops the Juggernaut. Funny how that works.
He Leads an Iconic Brand
While there is something unique and contemporary about being a Nets fan in 2012, the Knicks are the Coca Cola of the NBA – a tried and true (if not overrated) product that is commercially popular and enjoyed by hundreds of millions despite other options being available. Since the trade in 2011, Anthony has unquestionably become the face of the franchise, supplanting Amar’e, and even running out potential marketing threats like Jeremy Lin. While the Nets are desperate to change Knicks fans into Brooklyn Nets fans, Anthony is more than happy to be a company man and make sure the Knicks hold onto their financial security and market share.
Supervillain equivalent: Obadiah Stane. A wealthy industrialist who once worked with Tony Stark’s (Iron Man) father, Stane quickly came obsessed with acquiring and destroying Stark Industries at all costs to the point that he donned the identity of the Iron Monger, a villainous version of Iron Man. I haven’t seen billionaires turn on each other like this since hedge funds short sold Lehman Brothers into oblivion. See also: James Dolan.
Though he became a basketball star in Baltimore, Anthony was born in Brooklyn, a selling point the Nets pushed hard to the media and reportedly to Anthony himself when the team was chasing ‘Melo in a trade from the Denver Nuggets three seasons ago. Yet, according to most reports, Anthony never wavered in his desire to play for the Knicks. Perhaps it was because there was doubt that Brooklyn would ever come to fruition, or perhaps because he thought the supporting cast around him (most of whom were traded away) would be better. Regardless, after months of negotiations and almost-trades, it had become clear that the biggest obstacle in Anthony being traded to the Nets was Anthony himself. The Nets inevitably took a “you’re not breaking up with us, we’re breaking up with you” approach, pulling out of trade talks multiple times, and then immediately trading for Deron Williams before the ink was even dry on Anthony’s trade to the Knicks, but the handwriting was on the wall: Anthony did not want to return to his home borough and build something new and exciting in Brooklyn. He wanted the easier route that included playing for the more established franchise, in the more iconic (if not dated) arena, with his best friend in Amar’e at his side. And based on how the Nets performed the season and a half after the trade, there was no reason to believe that ‘Melo made the wrong choice.
Supervillain equivalent: Magneto. What has long made Magneto one of the comic book world’s most iconic villains is the fact that he sincerely believes that his actions are justified. He and Professor X are both brilliant individuals who happen to be mutants. Charles Xavier sees the mutant population as a group that can potentially bring peace and stability to the planet, while Magneto views the world more cynically, believing that mutants are superior to humans and will likely just be feared by them because of their powers. Xavier and Magneto both met when they were younger and were close friends, before it became clear to Magneto that their ideologies were too different, making them mortal enemies.