It took Carmelo Anthony a little longer than his ’03 Draft Class peers to earn universal recognition for his game. LeBron became, well, LeBron. DWade won a championship. Darko will forever compete with the biggest draft busts of all time. But Melo? Aside from putting up numbers and that one set-back in MSG, he’s pretty much sailed under the radar, just like he’s always done dating back to his days in ‘Cuse. Consistently he’ll throw up 20-plus ppg and lead his team to the Playoffs, only to get bounced in the first round. This happened for his first five seasons until last year, when they reached the Western Conference Finals. Though the Nuggets felt short of winning the West, it marked a huge step for Melo and his squad. They’ve finally had a taste of what could be. Is it any coincidence Melo’s near the top in scoring with 30 ppg and the Nuggets are a contender this season? After winning the NCAA Championship seven years ago, the kid from Baltimore might be close to reaching that championship round once again.–Matt Lawyue

Carmelo Anthony, SLAM 73 Cover Story.

by Khalid Salaam

I really shouldn’t have to explain why we’re doing a cover story on Carmelo Anthony. Being the star player on the national championship team—as a freshman, no less—should bring with it an almost sickening amount of fame. At this point, the chat room geeks and old-school columnists should be complaining about how they’re tired of hearing about this guy, that he needs to prove himself before we anoint him a great player and that nobody can possibly be this good this soon. The haters should be in full bloom. But then, maybe I’m not putting this in its proper perspective.

People like to talk about how sports are just another form of entertainment, and how too much importance is placed on it. So when a star player is actually under the radar, we shouldn’t act like it’s a tragedy. There are more important things to consider in this world—this has been a busy news year. Our government went to war, SARS became a brand-name disease and 60 million people from New York to Toronto experienced a blackout. So with all that going on, maybe Carmelo Anthony hasn’t truly become a household name for good reason. But that reason has nothing to do with his game.

As far as basketball, it has been a pretty eventful year. A lot of heartwarming stories, and at least an equal amount of troubling ones. One of the biggest of the year, no doubt, was Syracuse winning the college hoops title. After years of underachieving and being overrated, the Orange finally put it together with an 81-78 win over Kansas—this after missing the Dance altogether the previous year. Nationally, expectations were fairly low (we at SLAM had them rated No. 20 in last year’s college preview), but Anthony’s name certainly had a buzz. He justified that praise at every turn and was named National Freshman of the Year. And on his team’s march to its first title, Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick, Billy Edelin and a few other cats all had their moments, but none of it would have been possible if not for Carmelo. There were hints of how good this guy might be early on—a ‘Cuse freshman record 27 points (along with 11 rebounds) in the season opener against Memphis at Madison Square Garden being one, his ability to score and rebound with ease while keeping that easygoing demeanor another. By the time the Tournament rolled around, it was easy to tell that he had the essentials. The ability and self-confidence. That winning attitude that certain players have which separates the haves from the have-nots, the pretty good from the pretty great. Tourney averages of 22 and 10, if you’re curious, including 20 points, 10 boards and 7 assists in the title game, all while playing with a severely strained back. That’s the shit legends are made of. In this postmodern era, we need everything the moment we see it, and anybody can be a star.

Having actual talent seems to be an optional attribute (look at all those reality TV survivors or Tom Green’s career if you don’t believe me). So imagine what happens when someone’s status is actually justified. Trust, you’ll find out about Melo soon enough. It’s inevitable. You’ll see him play and appreciate the fun he seems to have. You’ll know his number, his name, and his game. But until you cop your own seat on the bandwagon, we’ll drop a jewel on you right now.

SLAM: It must seem like an eternity for you since the national championship game. How has your life changed since then?

Carmelo Anthony: It’s changed a lot. Mainly in college, I could just focus on going to school and playing basketball, but now it’s the business world. After we won the national championship, everything in my life totally changed. My daily life changed, all the traveling, everyone knows who you are and whatnot. I even had to get security around me. I thought that I’d never have to travel with security, but everyone told me I would have to.

SLAM: Did you feel the people who wanted you to stay at Syracuse another year were being selfish and didn’t understand that you had family responsibilities?

CA: There were some people acting selfish. Yeah, definitely. They know who they are. But the people who understood why I was leaving, those are the real fans. I stayed there for one year and I gave them what they wanted the most. I gave them a national championship and they ran with it.

SLAM: If you guys had not won the title, would you have stayed? Was there any doubt in your mind?

CA: It’s hard to say now, because we did win the championship. If we had lost, that would have been another story. After we won I thought, Yeah, I’m going to the League. There’s not really more I can get out of college from a basketball perspective. That’s real.

SLAM: Having grown up in Baltimore, what are your first impressions of the Mile High City?

CA: When I first went out there, I was like, Man, I ain’t be able to make it! Living in Baltimore and going to Denver is totally different. I’d never been there before, so I went out there a couple of weeks ago trying to get used to it. But it’s so slow. There’s not as much to do. All I’m gonna do out there is play video games. The good thing about that is it helps you focus more. The thin air is no joke. When I first went out there, it felt like somebody was kicking me in the chest. I ran up the court once and I was like, the air, it ain’t that bad. Then I ran up the floor again and it wasn’t that bad. But then I did it again and starting running up and down and I was like, Awww, my chest! [grabs his shirt for effect]

SLAM: When you think about what it took for you to be at the very moment you’re at, what comes to mind first?

CA: Hard work. I put in all of this effort to get where I’m at now. Everything seems worth it now. This is my beginning right here. I put all of that hard work in just to get right here, so imagine what I’m gonna have to do to be successful at this level.

SLAM: What do you think are going to be your biggest challenges once you get into the League?

CA: All those games. Eighty-two games, that’s a long time. It’s gonna be a long season, man. I don’t know, people talk about hitting the rookie wall. I really ain’t trying to hit no wall. They say it hits you around the All-Star break. I’m gonna try and do my best and pace myself. I think I’m gonna have a good year, though.

SLAM: I want to ask about your childhood. Can you tell me about your upbringing?

CA: It was tough. I grew up in Baltimore. You ever seen The Wire? I grew up right there in that same neighborhood. It was kind of hard for me because I was a ballplayer and I wanted to be in the streets. I had people looking out for me, guiding me, telling me that if I focused I was gonna be something one day. When I was growing up, I could have easily went the wrong way. But my moms and my boys saw something in me and they wouldn’t let me go the wrong route. There were times when I was close.

Carmelo Anthony, SLAM 73 Cover Story SLAM: How would you describe Baltimore for the uninitiated?

CA: Baltimore itself is just different from any other city and state you can think of. The style of dress, the people’s demeanor and everybody’s approach about life. We’re a hard-working city. When people think of Baltimore they think of DC, but both places are totally different from each other.

SLAM: Explain what drove you during the times when things weren’t so good. Who do you do this for?

CA: I’m doing this for myself, but for my family also. When I was growing up, my mom struggled to try and make ends meet for everyone. Now I have a chance to help her to the point where she and my family don’t have to want for nothing. She raised five kids on her own. The first thing I said to her after the Draft was that I made it. She was like, “You did, I know.” I think she was shocked that all of it came so fast.

SLAM: When did it click in your mind that basketball wasn’t just something to do, but that this could be your job?

CA: I played streetball, and I would imitate other people and, you know, imagine I’m in the NBA shooting the ball with five seconds on the clock from halfcourt. It really didn’t click for me until my junior year in high school when I was like, maybe I can be somebody.

SLAM: Did it all come together for you at a particular time?

CA: No, not really. I was going into the summer of my senior year and I was a local prospect, and I always wanted to play against the better players in my class across the country and show what I could do. Once I went out there and proved to myself that I could play with them, my confidence went sky high.

SLAM: I know you joked around a lot about being deserving of the No. 1 pick, but how much did that bother you going third after LeBron and Darko? Do you feel like you’re underrated?

CA: I would say yes, I’m underrated right now, but I don’t feed into all that “Who’s No. 1?” and “Who’s No. 2?” stuff. I’m happy where I’m at as the No. 3 pick. It’s not that big of a deal money-wise. The money is still good. It’s just a couple of dollars. All of us getting money right now. Now it’s about who is willing to work the hardest and who wants it the most. Whatever it takes man, for me to be the best, I’ll do it.

SLAM: Is one of those things going to be getting more muscular? What is your workout regimen?

CA: I like working out now. I didn’t like lifting that much, though. My high school coaches were always trying to get me into the weight room, but I just wasn’t feeling it. But now I like it. I can bench about 235 pounds. I’ve been slacking off lately though! Traveling so much doing all these TV shows, interviews and photo shoots [laughs]. When I’m home or in Denver, then I work out more. Like I said, you can’t do much anyway. So I’m working out from like 10 until 4. Weight room. Drills, shooting, all that stuff.

SLAM: How are you preparing yourself to avoid the hookers that hang around players’ hotels? Or just the countless people who want you to go into business with them?

CA: The business people are always gonna be there, trying to show you what kind of plans they got for you. Saying what they wanna do for you and all that. And the groupies are gonna be there regardless as well. Doing what they do. You can’t assume that they’re ever gonna stop. It’s just a matter of how strong you are.

SLAM: What about the media?

CA: They’re gonna make something out of nothing regardless of what it is. No matter what you do wrong, they are gonna make it into something bigger. If it’s a small thing, then they’re gonna make something big out of it. You just gotta stay focused and stay strong.

SLAM: What about you—you’re dropping that ball on the young athlete stereotype, rolling through here pretty quietly. Where is the posse?

CA: I try not to travel with an entourage, because that brings attention and I don’t like everybody noticing me. I’m low-key. Besides, all of my friends are in college right now, so it’s hard for us to be together right now. We try to see each other in the summer as much as we can.

SLAM: Describe a successful season for you.

CA: Last year the Nuggets didn’t win a lot of games, so a successful season for me is if we win more than the 17 they did last year. I don’t care if I average 8 points, 10 points or 12 points as long as I’m happy by the way I perform. I just want to go out and earn some respect. I know people respect my game, but this is another level. I’ve already met my teammates and everybody seems cool. When we speak, they tell me about the NBA. I always listen to what other people have to say about the League. I just want to get out there and start playing.

SLAM: Do you feel that with LeBron and Darko getting so much attention, and by you being in Denver, that you’ll be able to focus without a lot of people bothering you?

CA: Yeah, by me going No. 3 to the Nuggets, I can just focus on my game more. I can have a bad game without the media saying anything bad about me. I can just play another game and play better in that game and avoid all that stuff.

SLAM: Assuming you’re gonna start, how do you feel about coming in and being a leader on the team? Is that easy for you since you played that role for Syracuse, or would you just rather blend in at first?

CA: I love being the main player on the court. I like having that pressure on me so I can set the example. I like to play hard and I want my teammates to play hard.

Carmelo Anthony, SLAM 73 Cover Story. SLAM: I want to ask you about Nike and Jordan for a second. When you were deciding which company to sign with, what was your biggest concern, the money or the style?

CA: No, no I’ve always worn Nikes growing up. At first they came up with a deal and I was like, that’s nothing, because my agent had been talking to some of the other companies and they were just giving out outrageous numbers and I was like, man [shakes his head in disappointment]. But I sat down and researched the ins and outs of Nike and the other companies. I was like, the money is good and it’s really about who you feel the most comfortable with, and I feel comfortable with Nike. I sat down with the designers [and talked] about what I like and what I don’t like, so I guess I had a little say-so in how my shoe would look.

SLAM: So tell me something about your personality that would surprise people.

CA: A lot of people portray all ballplayers as being cocky and arrogant. But I’m a humble guy, a laid-back person. I just like to chill, man.

SLAM: What about something about your game that will surprise people?

CA: A lot of people say that I don’t look like I play hard, but obviously I do. That’s just how I look, I can’t help that. People say the same thing about TMac and he goes out there and gets 40 points a night. People are gonna say what they wanna say, but I know that I play hard every single game, and that’s something that nobody can take away from me. I’m gonna show everybody what I can do. That’s a promise.