Dingy baggage claim of Newark Airport. Lights too florescent and annoying bright. Ceilings too low. The hour too late. Nearly everybody on the flight from Los Angeles -- just landed at about 11 p.m. -- is fresh from All-Star weekend, which is one of sports' great exercises in sleep deprivation.
These are NBA people. More than a dozen of the crowd of two hundred or so are in Knicks gear. Many have All-Star hats, pins, bags or other swag. Some are NBA employees, complaining that, after an untold succession of long days running All-Star Weekend 3,000 miles from the league's New York headquarters, it's back to the office tomorrow morning.
And then: "YEEEEEESSSSSSS! YES! CAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARmelo!"
A short man in gray sweats is working his pleasingly gravelly voice to its outer limits, as he leaps from his seat. Everyone else is just waiting for their bags. But not this guy. He's pumping his fist like he has just scored a goal in the World Cup. He has more enthusiasm than every other person in the building combined.
Something , clearly, is up.
A child decked out in fresh Adidas gear from some hospitality suite turns to his well-connected mom, returning from a working vacation with her family. "Why is that guy," asks the child, "saying 'Carmelo?'"
"I don't know," she replies. "There hasn't been a deal yet."
This family is up on the NBA. But not too up, it turns out.
Because ... The smartphone era turns one man's screams into (after a delay as thumbs around the room swipe touch screens) nods and conversation all around. This New York area NBA crowd just is getting a big piece of news, and they're buzzing.
Prokhorov should have offered more, says one Nets fan. "I thought the meeting went well?"
"This should have happened yesterday," laments a child. "Then Melo could have played for the East team, and maybe he could have guarded Kobe."
Gray sweats guy, though -- who had been slumped against a pole, waiting drearily for his bag just minutes earlier -- is suddenly living a whole different life. He has rearranged the ski cap on his head from straight insulation position, to a jaunty perch high up top. After an A-plus hug of his lady, he's dialing somebody.
"We got Carmelo, so wassup. So what is up. Just sayin'. We got Carmelo. Car-mel-o. We got Carmelo. Carmelo. Wassup. WassUP."
The tone is menacing enough to start a fight. This is not a call to a Knicks fan. "What's up," can mean a lot. Here it's a strong taunt. But it's theater, running on joy.
That's the entire call.
The Knicks have done good.
They'll be chopping it up on sports radio about whether or not the Knicks gave up too much for a player many believe was always coming their way. There's another whole conversation about how the Knicks have hitched their wagon to two dreadful defenders (Amare Stoudemire and Anthony) and an offensive-minded coach. Then what about adjusting to a new point guard?
"But Gallinari," somebody dares to say to the guy in the gray sweats.
"I don't EVEN care about that."