It seems like decades ago that 18-year old phenom Lebron James and 19-year old national champion, Carmelo Anthony embarked on their NBA careers with a mountain of expectations on their teenage shoulders. James appeared destined to lift the moribund Cleveland Cavaliers franchise from perennial bottom feeders while Anthony brought relevancy and hope to the downtrodden Denver Nuggets.
Part of the anticipation that surrounded their arrivals revolved around the expectation that they would be the greatest rivalry since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird graced the court in the 80's. However, those were large shoes to fill in a rivalry that involved the two most successful franchises in sports and eventually inspired a Broadway play.
The James-Anthony rivalry never came to fruition between Denver and Cleveland. Instead, James and Anthony have played each other in a slew of meaningless regular season contests.
Anthony has won the majority of their head-to-head meetings but James has posted slightly better numbers. In 15 career meetings, Anthony has a 9-6 advantage over James and averaged 23 points, 6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. James has averaged 25.1 points, 7.3 assists and 6.2 rebounds.
Ultimately, neither was also able to bring a championship to their respective small market franchises but they did manage to play one exciting nail biter in 2010 when Anthony and James were still with their original franchises. With the score tied 116-116, Anthony received a pass on the wing and squared up and draining his signature pull up jumper over James' outstretched arms.
Unfortunately, they've been unable to replicate that type of drama. With any luck, a playoff atmosphere will breed the intensity necessary.
Tomorrow afternoon, however, they will meet for the first time as playoff opponents in hopes of waking a dormant rivalry. More importantly, it will involve a pair of franchises with built-in animosity.
The Nuggets and Cavaliers had no connection to one another. They weren't even in the same conference. Miami and New York despise each other. The Heat and Knicks rivalry features indelible images such as Jeff Van Gundy underneath a pile of brawling players as he hung onto Alonzo Mourning's leg or Allan Houston's series winning floater in 1999.
Anthony has endured a roller coaster season. During the first three months of the season, Anthony averaged career lows in scoring and shooting percentage. After injuring his groin during Jeremy Lin's first start, he watched from the sideline as Lin replaced him as the face and darling of the franchise and fans.
Following his return to the lineup at the height of Lin-sanity, the Knicks went on another lengthy losing streak and Mike D'Antoni resigned after management refused to heed his request to trade Anthony. To make matters worse, Anthony then re-injured his groin in late March.
However, in the month of April, Anthony is playing the best basketball of his career and outperforming every player in the NBA including James, who is having the best season of his career and the most efficient one in NBA history.
This month, Anthony is ranked first in efficiency with averages of 29.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists per game and averaging 49.5 percent shooting. James is averaging 29.5/6.8/4.9 and 51 percent.
Anthony and James wont be alone. James will be accompanied on the playoff stage by his Heatles band mates, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade (and Gabrielle Union). Anthony's platoon includes Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, JR Smith and Steve Novak (and Spike Lee). For the Knicks to win, Amare Stoudemire will have to turn back the clock and play like the confident Stoudemire of old, like he did last night against the Bobcats.
The Broadway play Magic/Bird has been showing for two weeks, however, this week the real show will star Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony in Manhattan and South Beach. With any luck, their duel will be showing on the national stage for seven games and years to come.