To this point in his pro career, Anthony hasn’t taken the lead in making average teams good or good ones great. He hasn’t displayed the right temperament to shoulder the load during difficult times or set a positive example while others look to him for assurance. He’s just not “The Guy,” but the reality is few are in professional team sports.
Talented athletes are too often labeled as franchise players. The term is so misapplied that it seems many are elevated to top-rung status if they’re simply featured frequently in television highlight tapes.
Don’t get me wrong. Anthony is among the NBA’s most skilled players. He’s capable of outstanding performances, such as his 39-point, 10-rebound outing Monday in leading the Knicks to a victory in overtime against Orlando that ended their losing streak at six games. To be sure, Anthony is a major talent.
But talent is only a baseline trait of true franchise players, which Elgin Baylor reminded me. Baylor, 76, knows because he embodied what it means to be one.
The Hall of Famer and District native is arguably one of the top five players in NBA history. He was an acrobatic superstar, the predecessor of high-flying players such as Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Michael Jordan.
More importantly, though, Baylor’s performance and leadership helped stabilize the Los Angeles Lakers at a critical juncture in their history.
Baylor’s immense talent provided his foundation. “And it really all does start with the ability, the talent,” Baylor, not commenting specifically about Anthony, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “You have to have that if you want to be the guy.”
But, he continued, “there’s a lot more to it than just that. Do you want to lead? Do you want to take on all the responsibility that comes with it? Because if you want to be the guy, then it’s not just about the talent. A lot of guys have talent.”
Beyond his eye-opening statistical achievements, Baylor had the desire to lead. He understood the importance of the best player setting the right tone. He accepted being held accountable because that was part of being out front.
The Knicks are eager for Anthony to become their lead dog. Anthony, however, has not seized the opening, complaining about things in general and pouting on the bench at times while the Knicks lost nine of 10 since the trade.
“You have to have the right frame of mind, the right attitude,” Baylor said, again only commenting generally about the mental makeup of franchise players. “It was a subconscious thing for me. No one ever told me, ‘Go lead us.’ That was never said.