This profile appeared in the July 27, 2012, issue (“Let the Games Begin!”).
Event: Men’s basketball
Position: Small forward
Hometown: New York, N.Y.
Growing up on the streets of Baltimore, the Brooklyn-born Carmelo Anthony never really felt Puerto Rican. After all, his father, Carmelo Iriate, died of cancer when Melo was just a toddler, and the dominant, identity-giving figure in his life ever since was his mother, Mary Anthony, who’s African-American. “My mom raised four kids by herself,” Anthony shouted out to her after winning the NCAA Championship at Syracuse. “I’m the youngest. I know she’s real proud of me now.” During the same interview he mentioned his father’s heritage and that his mother had named him Carmelo because, “It’s kind of Spanish.”
After graduating from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, he traveled with a friend to Ponce to watch the championship game of the Puerto Rican league. He felt enough at home that he considered staying to play in the summer league there, but he wasn’t sure if it would affect his NCAA eligibility.
After his one-and-done year at Syracuse, the 19-year-old entered the 2003 NBA draft (along with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade). His rookie season, he averaged 21.0 ppg and 6.1 rpg for the Denver Nuggets. During early 2004, he flirted with joining Puerto Rico for the Athens Olympics rather than waiting to find out if he would get an invitation from Team USA, whose coaches had their pick of young talent at forward. Anthony chose to sweat out the wait, mainly because Olympic rules prohibited him from switching allegiance at a later time. “I would do it if I could [play for] both,” he said.
The selection committee rewarded him with an invitation after a number of players who had helped the US qualify—Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Kidd—dropped out before the games. But maybe the committee didn’t do him that much of a favor. In limited time, Melo averaged an uncharacteristic 2.4 ppg and 1.6 rpg. The only silver lining—well, bronze lining—was that, when the team finished third, most of the fingers were pointed at Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan, not at Anthony. Did I forget to mention that Puerto Rico embarrassed the Americans 92-73 during the opening round in Athens?
But as Anthony’s career rolled on, and it became clear that he could score points in wild bursts at any level, he became strongly associated in the public mind with the gangsta culture that pervaded Baltimore. That was mainly because of his occasional brushes with the law (most had to do with cars and the presence of both him and marijuana inside them) and because of his unapologetic (at first, anyway) cameo appearance on an infamous DVD called Stop Snitchin’ that warned B-more residents that collaborating with the cops might prove hazardous to one’s health.
But Anthony has worked hard over the last five years or so to clean up his image. Maybe it has something to do with his very public engagement and marriage to the Nuyorican actress La La Vasquez. Or maybe he’s just getting older and Melo-er. In any event, the run-ins with the law seem to be behind him, and Anthony has been the model Dream Teamer, going out for FIBA World Championships and Americas Championships, and winning gold in Beijing while averaging 11.5 ppg/4.3 rpg. And he’s had spectacular moments in the run-up to the London games, including a game-high 27 points in 24 minutes against Spain in a July 24 exhibition match in Barcelona.
Through his Carmelo Anthony Foundation, Melo has been helping to build or refurbish community sports facilities in underserved communities in the US and Puerto Rico. And he’s developing a side career in Hollywood, producing Tyson, James Toback’s a documentary about Mike Tyson. More recently, he appears to have been laying the groundwork—possibly—for a movie about the life of the most famous Boricua athlete ever, Roberto Clemente. “He broke down so many barriers and set such a high standard in so many different ways,” Anthony has said about the Pittsburgh Pirates great. “Because of my heritage in Puerto Rico, to be taking part in this is really big for me.” You know, Roberto—that’s kind of Spanish too.
About the most worrisome development is that Cablevision CEO James Dolan has taken a strong liking to Melo. And it is known far and wide around the city and beyond that Dolan is the absolute worst judge of character who has ever lived.