Stephen Burnett said he’s feeling a long-overdue sense of optimism now that Carmelo Anthony is in the lineup at the New York Knicks.
Burnett, who said he jumped off his bed when he heard about the trade that brought Anthony to New York from the Denver Nuggets, was at Madison Square Garden last night to see Anthony score a team-leading 27 points in his debut as New York won 114-108 against the Milwaukee Bucks.
“For a long time, when I’d tell people I was a Knicks fan, they’d laugh at me,” said Burnett. “Now we’re respectable. Now we’re a contender.”
Burnett, a 29-year-old service agent for Delta Airlines Inc. from Brooklyn, arrived at the Garden at noon -- nearly eight hours before tipoff -- and was the first fan in the ticket cancellation line.
The Knicks (29-26) are seeking their first winning season since 2000-01. New York hasn’t made the playoffs since 2003-04, and last won a postseason series in 1999.
Even with that record, the franchise is the most valuable in the National Basketball Association, according to Forbes magazine, at $655 million. The team’s $64 million in operating profit last season also led the league, Forbes said. The Knicks are owned by Madison Square Garden Inc., which was spun off from New York-area cable television provider Cablevision Systems Corp. last year.
The Knicks got Anthony in a three-team trade that included 13 players, three draft picks and a $3 million payment. Anthony, 26, and five-time All-Star guard Chauncey Billups, 34, made their Knicks debuts in front of a raucous crowd of 19,763 that almost completely drowned out the pregame introduction of Anthony.
Anthony and Billups
Anthony, who went 10-for-25 from the field, grabbed 10 rebounds. Billups, who scored 21 points, went 12-for-12 from the free throw line. Amar’e Stoudemire added 19 points before fouling out and Toney Douglas scored 23 off the bench for New York. The Bucks remained close until Anthony’s fall-away 12-footer with 26.8 seconds remaining gave the Knicks a six-point cushion that forced Milwaukee to begin fouling.
“I’m just glad I got this game out of my system,” Anthony said at a postgame news conference. “These last two days have been crazy for me. I have been working on no sleep, just the excitement of this whole thing going down. Getting this ‘W’ really meant a lot to me.”
There were dozens of blue and orange Anthony jerseys and t-shirts in the Garden. Outside the arena, fans also showed off new No. 7 Anthony jerseys. Earlier in the day, fans lined up for more than three hours at Manhattan stores such as Modell’s Sporting Goods to buy the new jerseys.
‘There’s a Buzz’
“There’s a buzz in the Garden, you can feel it out here,” Brian Levine, a 30-year-old Long Island resident, said in an interview outside the arena. “I really feel like it’s going to be like the ‘90s again, a lot of electricity, a lot of buzz, a lot of roaring.”
Ticket prices for last night’s game tripled on the secondary market in anticipation of Anthony’s debut. By 5 p.m., the ticket cancellations line had swelled to more than 200 people.
About 25 television cameras and an equal number of photographers captured Anthony’s introductory news conference. The 6-foot-8 forward, who lived in Brooklyn until he was 8 years old, said he was “ready to rock” and relieved to have put trade negotiations behind him.
The excitement surrounding the game wasn’t lost on the Bucks. Visiting players get two free tickets to games and Bucks guard Brandon Jennings said he had to buy six additional seats because friends wanted to see Anthony’s debut.
Anthony, who is averaging 25.2 points per game this season, is expected to bolster a Knicks offense that scores a conference-high 106.2 points per game. Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which helps Nevada’s sports books establish betting lines, lowered the Knicks’ odds of winning the NBA title to 15-1 from 20-1 after the trade.
“With Melo and Amar’e Stoudemire together, I’d say we’re bringing a ring back real quick,” James Patierno, 21, a student at the University of Rochester, said in a pregame interview outside the arena.
Patierno was attending with Doug Hoch, a 21-year-old student at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University. Patierno woke up Hoch three nights ago when reports surfaced that Anthony would be coming to New York. The friends, who said they intend to buy Anthony jerseys, already had tickets for last night’s game.
“I didn’t believe him at first, and then I turned on the TV and realized that I really had tickets to see Melo’s debut in the Garden,” Hoch said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”