Carmelo Anthony talks Thunder, Puerto Rico and his support for Colin Kaepernick
‘I have to do it and keep the awareness going about the island because it can easily be forgotten’
SACRAMENTO, California — Carmelo Anthony looked quite comfortable at the end of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s practice Monday afternoon as he sat with his legs stretched, ice bags on his knees and his now familiar hoodie over his head as his new teammates got in skill work. The ex-New York Knicks star is enjoying playing with fellow All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
What is taking some getting used to for Anthony is being away from his wife, La La, and his 10-year-old son, Kiyan, who are in New York City.
“It’s like they’re in a whole other world. Not to have your family there with you, that’s tough. That’s the toughest part. Basketball takes care of itself. Living there will take care of itself. I am already adjusted to the city, to the people. But not having family around is tough,” Anthony said.
Anthony sat down with The Undefeated at Cal-State Sacramento’s basketball arena to talk about life in Oklahoma City, his fight to aid Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, his bond with his son, his strong voice on social consciousness, being a big fan of Colin Kaepernick and more.
How is living in Oklahoma City? How does one go from living in New York City to living in Oklahoma City?
It’s a challenge. It’s just different because it’s a different culture. It’s a challenge more so for me because my family is not there. That is the challenge. My son is still in school back there in New York. My wife is back there. (It has been reported the couple has been living separately since April.) They commute back and forth. But not having them there on a consistent basis, seeing them after the games, stuff like that, that’s the hardest part.
How do you communicate with your family, especially your son?
Tons of FaceTime now all day. Videos. Try to make it as easy as possible.
How did you explain the trade from the Knicks to Oklahoma City to your son?
We would communicate throughout the whole process, so a lot of it was him coming to me asking me for information, asking me where I should go and giving me advice. He was the one giving me advice and I was surprised, because a lot of times I’m thinking about him and how it affects him getting up and moving to another city. I’m thinking should I go somewhere close for the commute? All that came into place early. And once it started getting [near training camp time], what was the best decision for everybody?
What was the best advice your son gave you?
OKC. It’s crazy. I tell people this story. It is hard for somebody to believe it. But the night before the trade went down [Sept. 22], OKC wasn’t even in the picture. I had already talked to my agent and my team and said, ‘Let’s get ready to go back to New York. Media Day is Monday [Sept. 25], let’s see how we go through this.’ My son comes in the room and says, ‘You’re going to training camp Monday?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s good for you. I’m not going away from the family.’ He said, ‘I wish you would go to OKC. Can you just tell them you want to go to OKC?’ Out the blue.
I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘I just like you out there. I think it’s better for you.’ I’m like, ‘All right, son. Whatever.’ But in my mind, I was like, ‘Damn, maybe he is saying something.’ The next day I get the call, ‘There might be something with OKC.’ I said, ‘Take it. If they’re serious about pulling the trigger and the Knicks want to do it, do it.’ Then my son comes back and says, ‘Dad, just tell them you want to go to OKC.’ As soon as he said that he left and went to [basketball] practice, and then the trade happened.
I don’t know what to make from that. I’m still trying to figure that out. Obviously, he knows what he knows. He is very smart about the game of basketball now. He’s at the age where he understands the dynamics of what happens with trades, people leaving and things like that. The hardest part is, him not being able to wake up to me every day. It hits him sometimes. It hits my wife sometimes. Reality sinks in. It’s all cool, it’s all fun, until you’re sitting home at night and reality sinks in.
Considering that you lost your father at 2 years old, how important was fatherhood to you? (Anthony’s father, Carmelo Iriarte, died of cancer.)
That’s major. A lot of my decisions are made because of [my son] and wanting to be around. I know the connection that we have, and it’s unexplainable. The bond we have, it’s hard to explain that. People who know my situation and are around, that’s the first thing they tell you about him and me.
Do you think you get your revolutionary blood from your father? (Iriarte was a member of the Puerto Rican militant group called the Young Lords that originated from a Chicago street gang and evolved into Puerto Rican nationalists bringing awareness to the problems affecting New York City ghettos.)
Yeah. It’s something I didn’t know until later when I started doing research on him and what he was into. Talking to my sisters on that side, reading books and just hearing stories from other people talking about him. … My mother told me one day, ‘Your daddy would be proud of you.’ I said, ‘For what?’ She said, ‘He would be proud of you for what you’re doing, for what you’re standing up for, for what you’re fighting for, what you believe in, following your beliefs. That’s what he did.‘
I see it in me when I hear the stories. I know everything about him now. He was the ‘People’s Champ.’ He walked into a room and attracted so much positive energy, good vibes and good energy. He didn’t allow any negative energy around him. He was loyal to a fault. He was a very committed man. He knew what he wanted. He had his vision of what he wanted, put his head down and went for it.
Are you familiar with any community change he was able to make?
He was a part of the Young Lords, and that was a big fight for the Puerto Ricans and the independency of Puerto Rico. He was fighting to get the awareness of us as Puerto Ricans. He was big into that and community change.
How do you feel about what you have been able to do in terms of bringing weekly awareness to the struggles of Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricane it faced this past summer and bringing donations there?
I feel good about what I am doing because I am doing something. But I also feel bad about it because I ask myself, ‘Am I doing enough?’ I’m always going to ask that. There is not enough that anybody can do to help it right now, so we have to keep on doing it and keep on doing it. But that is why regardless of what it is, I have to do it and keep the awareness going about the island, because it can easily be forgotten.
Are you making a point to make a weekly post on social media to keep people aware that Puerto Rico needs help? (Anthony has been doing work in Puerto Rico for the past eight years, dedicating eight courts. After the hurricane he sent hygiene water kits with UNICEF USA, sent 540,000 vita meals through Feed the Children and assisted in getting 100,000 pounds of food to the island with Operation Air Drop.)
Yeah. I am always trying to help. I sent people there from my team down on the island. I have been there now on the ground. I just want to keep the awareness going and let people know that I am there with them regardless. I do feel like I have tweeted [and posted on] Instagram because it can be forgotten about like anything else.
What are your people in Puerto Rico saying, and what have you learned?
It’s going to take time. That is what they’re telling me. It’s going to take a lot of time. It’s hard to tackle everything. You just find one thing to tackle, deal with that, fix that and go on to the next one.
How careful do you have to be with your voice on social injustice now?
I don’t really care about that. If I feel a certain way about something, I will speak out on it. There are certain things that mean more to me because it is near and dear to me. [My hometown of] Baltimore, Puerto Rico, New York, those are places that are near and dear to me. I will always speak out about that. And as a whole, social injustice as a whole, I will continue to speak out on it.
What do you think about what is going on in the NFL right now with the protests during the national anthem in hopes to gain awareness on police brutality against black men, and why haven’t those protests transferred over to the NBA?
In the NBA, we are allowed [to speak]. [NBA commissioner] Adam Silver does a great job of allowing us to speak. But also, we made it cool to step up to the challenge and almost put the pressure on the NBA to back us. We’re in this together. They say we’re in this together, so you can’t reprimand somebody for speaking out on what they believe in.
It is something where the NFL hasn’t gravitated to that yet. It’s a long shot. There is a deeper, deeper, bigger business in the NFL than there is in the NBA when it comes to those type of things. … I think what the players are doing, they have to continue doing that. They shouldn’t be threatened by owners saying, ‘I’ll take your contract away from you.’ We shouldn’t be in that league if that’s how we will be treated.
There is a different way that owners should go about it. They should communicate with the players. I thought early on, [Dallas Cowboys owner] Jerry Jones did a good job of kneeling with his players. And then after that [saying he would suspend players who knelt during the national anthem], that defeated the whole purpose. You have to be as one.
Did you get a chance to talk to or get to know former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick while you were in New York City?
I never met him. I talked to him via text. I talked to him via e-mail and exchanged a couple messages. But I am going to try to get with him. I love what he is doing. I’m his No. 1 supporter. I support him differently because I’ve seen it from the beginning. I was the one he reached out to in the beginning when he was putting it all in play. To see it come into fruition and to see him follow through with it, I got a different respect from him.
After all the tough times with the Knicks, how did you feel when the trade to Oklahoma City was completed?
It was bittersweet. That’s my city. I didn’t want to leave like that. I didn’t want it to end like that. But it’s just a reoccurring thing that happens in New York. It happened in the past. It happened to other people. It happens all the time. Nobody ever goes out the right way in New York. I wanted to have an opportunity now to go somewhere else rather than wait and dealing with that. It’s at the end. It’s over with.
How much do you enjoy playing with Russell Westbrook and Paul George?
I love it. I love it. I love it. The bond that we have even in the first eight or nine games is different.
Did you call NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Kiki Vandeweghe to rescind your technical from Sunday night? Does it help that you have a relationship with Vandeweghe, the former Denver Nuggets general manager? (Anthony was ejected from Sunday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers after being called for a flagrant foul 2 in the third quarter for hitting center Jusuf Nurkic in the air during a made lay-in. Vandeweghe drafted Anthony third overall in the 2003 NBA draft as general manager of the Nuggets.)
I haven’t talked to anybody, but hopefully they get it right. I have never had anything like that before where an ‘and-1’ goes to a technical. I couldn’t say nothing. I’m just stunned sitting there looking at the ref. What were they looking at? And I see Nurkic down there laughing with his teammates.