The Realest

by Ryan Jones

“I respect everything that AI do, just for the simple fact that he came from the same place — not technically, but he came from the same place I came from. Which is the grimy… the streets, put it like that. So for somebody to stay true to themselves and not care about what nobody else thinks, then you get a following. You get people to start respecting you on a whole totally different level when they see that you real.” — Carmelo Anthony, November 17, 2006

Yes, timing is indeed a bitch, but so is context. When Melo spoke those words about a month ago, neither he nor I nor anyone else had any idea how much timing would affect their relevance, or how much their context would change. How much difference does a month make? In this case, a whole f*cking lot.

Like everyone else at SLAM, my initial response to the news of the Knicks-Nuggets brawl over the weekend was something along the lines of, “Crap. Our Melo cover is just about to come out and now the story (which I wrote) is gonna be totally irrelevant, and dude’s gonna get some long-ass suspension and probably not even play a game for the entire time this issue is on newstands. Crap.” Well, I’m not good at math, but I think we were only about 67 percent right. Yes, Melo will miss all but a handful of games between now and the time SLAM 105 goes off sale. And yes, the story I wrote, and a lot of the quotes in it, are looking a little dated now. But irrelevant? Not at all. If anything, the changes of timing and context only serve to make a lot of what Melo told me that much MORE relevant; that goes for a lot of the quotes that made the story, AND a lot of the ones that didn’t.

The quote at the top of this page is one of those that didn’t make the cut, and not because it wasn’t a good one. Among other things in a pretty interesting 20-minute interview, I told Melo that I’d been at the Nuggets’ game in Philly the week before, and that watching him and AI on the court together reminded me how much they have in common. There’s the physical similarities — not size, obviously, but the hair and the tats and even the one-arm sleeve — but more important is their style of play: again, not similar in and of itself, but in how both have pretty unique games that few other guys could pull off, and how they’re such pure scorers so capable of carrying their teams offensively. And of course, the most important if least tangible similarity: the unconditional love they seem to receive from dudes with similar hardknock backgrounds, dudes who see Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony as the authentic NBA extensions of their own lives and experiences. So I asked Melo about this, and that’s how he answered. Then I got around to writing the story, and I just couldn’t make that quote fit into the flow of what I wrote, so I held onto it and figured I’d end up posting it here as bonus material once the issue dropped.

Well, here it is. An interesting quote at the time, given totally new and intriguing meaning by timing and context. And that applies for pretty much the whole interview.

As you’ll read when the issue drops, Melo’s overall vibe at the time was VERY positive. He was happy about life, happy about basketball, just generally feeling good about things. And there was no apparent reason why he shouldn’t have been. He kept saying things like “it’s all positive” and “I’m happy where we’re at right now” and “I just feel good about this year” and “I’m just havin’ fun,” and he smiled throughout. I’ve interviewed enough people, and ballplayers in particular, to have a decent idea of when they’re fronting, and honestly, most guys who weren’t in such a good mood wouldn’t have tried to hard to fake it anyway. Melo’s mood was believable because it was real.

Obviously, his mood has probably changed a little in the past few days. A season that was absolutely guaranteed to finally bring him an All-Star berth has now gone flying off the rails; he’s about to miss 20 percent of the season, and people who had no good reason not to vote him a starter now have one huge, justifiable reason. Same goes for the coaches who can’t really be blamed if they leave him off the reserves. It’s f*cked up, and there’s a lot of other people and forces involved, but Melo nonetheless brought this on himself. If he’s not on the court in Vegas, he’ll have only a right jab to blame.

And about that. Referring to his All-Star prospects in my cover story, I was smart and/or psychic enough to include the phrase “unless something drastic changes between the time these words are written and the time they’re read, he will simply, finally be too good to ignore.” But I wasn’t smart or psychic enough to know that he was gonna punch Mardy Collins, or that the punch would be so controversial. And I’m not talking about the sort of bullsh*t controvery that gets most of the white, old school media and its reader/viewership so fired up (more on that in a minute). I mean the controversy a lot of you care about: what the punch-and-run means about Melo’s respect in the hood, and anywhere else.

I assume it’s pretty obvious, but for those who don’t know, I’m a white guy who mostly grew up in the suburbs, and I never did much brawling. That said, I’m not really getting too caught up in judging Melo’s tactics. All I know is that I’ve seen plenty of fights, at school, outside a bar, wherever, and I’ve seen plenty of guys throw a suckerpunch or backpedal after throwing a blow. Granted, it certainly didn’t look very gangsta to see Melo reach out and tag Mardy and then immediately press the rewind button on his M3s, but it’s not my place to judge. Maybe it was the self-protection instinct kicking in. Maybe he realized, in the same instant he threw the punch, that he was in deep sh*t with the Sternbot and needed to minimize the damage to his career. Or maybe he’s a pussy. Like I said, it’s not my call. All I know is that when he said the following one month ago, I’m guessing none of you would have disagreed at the time:

“People don’t like fake people. That’s the one thing, regardless of anywhere I go, anywhere in the world, the first thing people say to me, ‘Yo, Melo, what’s goin’ on? You real, man. You the realest person I ever met.’ That right there means the world to me. I get that love from kids to older people to the streetest guys out there.”

Not being the “streetest” guy in the world myself (help me out here, Omar!), I can only imagine that some of the most gangsta cats out there might have had real reason to lose respect for Melo after how he handled himself on Saturday night. But I’m also guessing that the majority of the SLAM readership does not qualify as “the streetest guys,” so I’ll leave it on you to decide if you’re really, truly gangsta enough to judge him on this, and whether your own pugilistic skills have been proven to such an extent that you’re judgement is justified. I’m just saying.

Now, onto my “peers” in the media, who’ve once again jumped all over this, just like they did the Palace Malice a couple years back. Yeah, it’s newsworthy, and yeah, it’s nice for ratings to throw the looped highlights on the screen for a few days. But then I’m reading the New York Times this morning, and they’ve understandably got the better part of two or three pages dedicated to continued coverage of Melo’s punch, Isiah and Karl’s roles, the NBA’s reaction, etc, and how serious and important it all is. And then on one of the last pages in the sports section, they’ve got a story on the NHL (which is still around, apparently), and how there are fewer fights because the game’s faster now and the big brutes who used to rough up their fellow Ice Capaders aren’t fast or skilled enough to cut it in hockey these days. Which, obviously, I could give a sh*t about, but it reminded me of just how thoroughly full of crap people are.

Fighting in hockey never bothered me — it’s part of the sport, the players and fans understand that, and guys very rarely get seriously hurt in hockey fights. But since fighting isn’t supposed to be part of basketball, AND since the guys doing the very occasionally fighting aren’t suburban or farm-bred white dudes (which the NHL still primarily is, I’m told) but young, tatted-out, city-bred black dudes (I’m generalizing, but you get the point), it’s a very big deal. This is stupid, and if it’s not RACIST (which I don’t think it is), it’s still most definitely somewhat RACIAL. Which is only a little better. I’m not the first person to say this, but I said it after the Pistons-Pacers brawl and it bears repeating: anyone looking for some bigger social context here is an idiot.

Last thing: AI. When I interviewed Melo — ironically, just a week after the Nuggets had beaten the Sixers for their first win of the season — there was no sign that Iverson was gonna demand a trade, and there was absolutely no reason to think that these guys might actually be teammates by the end of the calendar year. Still, there are a few more good quotes that didn’t make it into the story that, with AI now apparently bound for the Rockies, take on a whole new context. I’ll run the exchange as it happened, one month ago…

SLAM: Looking at this team, the injuries and personnel changes, it seems like that much more reason that it’s really on you to decided how far this team goes.

MELO: I mean, there’s some truth to that. I think that this team is only going to to go as far as I lead ’em, as I take ’em, and I think they know that. But we know we gotta fight. Nobody can win it by theyself.”

SLAM: Is that kind of pressure on you a negative thing for you at all?

MELO: It’s a challenge. Every guy who’s in my situation… you could use LeBron, he led his team to the second round last year, almost beat Detroit. But he could only take ’em so far. He needed his supporting cast. That’s a similar situation that I’m in. I can get us there, and I can keep on humpin’, but I need y’all to hump with me.

SLAM: Along those lines, do you ever think, “If I could just add one piece to the puzzle…”

MELO: Man, every day it’s something different (laughs). Every day it’s a different player.

SLAM: The conventional wisdom is that you’ve gotta have two guys, that 1-2 punch. With all due respect to yoru teammates, that’s not really that other guy on this team.

MELO: That’s true to some extent. I think we missing somebody else who can do what they do, who can bring that to our team. So when I swing the ball, or somebody else swing the ball, you can clear it out for ’em, you can get ’em some iso, and that’s gonna scare teams.

Melo’s got his man, though it’s probably not quite the sidekick he imagined. How will these two co-exist? I really don’t have a clue, but for some strange reason I’m kind of optimistic — I think both of these guys will realize, from very different perspectives, that this year and next could be their best chance at a title if they can make it work. How many other teams have had a combo guard and a combo forward both capable of averaging 30 a game? Two very different guys capable of getting their shot (or getting to the line, and hitting 70 or 80 percent) at will? The Nuggets are gonna be MURDER to defend, and if JR can settle in as a third option — he should only practice wide-open threes for the rest of the year, because he’ll get a lot of ’em — and those injury-prone bigs stay healthy, they could have a shot. Maybe not this year — the double-transition of adding AI and then bringing Melo back and letting those guys learn to run together will be too much — but next year? All I know is that I wouldn’t want to have to guard those guys for seven straight games. Regardless, it should be hella fun to watch.