NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony has the money, the talent and the celebrity fiancee. But can the young superstar live through the wire and take his game and his hometown to the next level?
On a 2004 street DVD called Stop Fucking Snitching, there’s a scene where the Denver Nuggets’ all-star forward Carmelo Anthony stands beside a local Baltimore rapper named Skinny Suge. Dressed head to toe in red, Anthony laughs as Suge rages about snitches and rats and threatens to lynch the USA basketball team’s then-head coach, Larry Brown, for benching Anthony during the 2004 Olympics. Earlier that year, Anthony was also pinched with weed while boarding a plane (he’s always maintained it belonged to a friend) and had a nightclub brawl with his fiancée’s ex-boyfriend, New York rapper Suga J. The idea of Carmelo Anthony as a bankable brand and community pillar seemed unfathomable.
“The powers that be in the NBA definitely saw Anthony as the personification of what was wrong with their league—another spoiled thug,” says Ben Osborne, editor-in-chief of basketball monthly SLAM.
Flash forward to 2007: Anthony, bouncing a basketball, ducks inside The Carmelo Anthony Youth Development Center in Baltimore. The kids attending his summer camp mob him. “What’s up, Carmelo?” “’Melo!” “Ohhh!” They scream and yell, straining upward to touch him and shake his hand.
In December 2005, the 29,000-square-foot Boys and Girls Club lost the funding to operate the center. “The organization helped us for a month or two,” recalls Kurk Lee, the former New Jersey Net and the center’s athletic director. “After that…we volunteered for two to three months just to keep the kids off the street.”
Then Baltimore native and veteran NBA guard Sam Cassell told Anthony about the center’s plight. “Carmelo called me and asked who he could talk to about putting some money in,” Lee remembers. Anthony invested $1.5 million. Soon, not only did Nike decorate the building’s exterior and gym, but also the city of Baltimore chipped in $125,000 a year in subsidies, and the children of six nearby housing projects regained a safe haven. Anthony, just 23 years old, began looking more like the all-American hero those kids—and Madison Avenue—had hoped for.
“It’s like a legacy,” Anthony says. “You don’t really have too many people, athletes period, who can say, ‘I got a building with my name on it.’”