Carmelo Anthony: ‘This is a second chance’
After a yearlong layoff from the NBA, Melo is back with renewed motivation
NEW ORLEANS – Carmelo Anthony’s return to basketball was worth the wait.
Making his debut with the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night — his first NBA action in a year and 11 days — Anthony enjoyed the little things: taking a pregame nap, hearing his name blasted from the arena loudspeakers during starting lineups, making four baskets and getting high-fives from his new teammates. But more than that, he took pleasure in knowing his 12-year-old son, Kiyan, could witness his basketball rebirth after a confusing yearlong hiatus.
When Anthony was asked what he learned about himself during his layoff, he told The Undefeated: “How I’m able to motivate people. I think overall the way that I stayed strong in the fight. I stayed there. … Burning and all, I stayed there. I never wavered. I stayed strong and I hope that is motivation for everyone else.”
Anthony arrived to the arena on the Blazers’ third and final bus about an hour and 15 minutes before the game started. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward wore sunglasses and a beanie, and also had on a black jacket with the words “FAME IN FLAMES” on one side. Stitched on the other side in small letters were the words:
“THE ANTI, THE REVOLUTION. EMPOWERMENT. TRAGEDY TRIUMPHS. IF THE MELTDOWN DWELLS. ACHIEVEMENT CONQUERS. THE METEORIC RISE OF FAME IN FLAMES. WE THE PEOPLE ARE ALL NOBODIES.”
Twenty minutes later, the 10-time All-Star walked onto an NBA floor to cheers of “Melo” throughout the crowd. With his hood down, Anthony signed autographs and was greeted by former NBA players Dennis Scott, Nick Van Exel and Laron Profit as well as former WNBA star Teresa Weatherspoon before finally making his way to the Blazers side of the floor.
New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray sat in the third row wearing a vintage orange Anthony jersey from Syracuse and stuck around long after the final buzzer to talk to Anthony and get two jerseys signed. “I am a Syracuse native and a huge Melo fan. He means a lot to Syracuse and me,” Murray said.
Pelicans fans showed respect by cheering loudly for Anthony when he was announced last among the Blazers in the starting lineup.
The Blazers would go on to lose 115-104 to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night, but Anthony was finally back where he belonged.
Anthony, 35, has been one of the league’s most popular players and feared scorers since he entered the league in 2003. But after struggling in just 10 games with the Houston Rockets last season, the 10-time All-Star was stunned when he was told by general manager Daryl Morey that his services would no longer be needed following a Nov. 8 game. The Rockets ended up trading Anthony on Jan. 22 to the Chicago Bulls. Anthony never suited up and was waived by the Bulls on Feb. 1.
Anthony declined comment on the Rockets disaster on Tuesday night, but his longtime personal manager Robert “Bay” Frazier told The Undefeated that he believed his client was used as a scapegoat for a poor Houston start.
“It was rough times when the [Rockets news] first hit,” Frazier told The Undefeated.
No one else offered Anthony a contract the remainder of the season or this past offseason. His willingness to come off the bench and defend at a respectable level were questioned. Still, the LA Clippers and Brooklyn Nets showed enough interest in Anthony to lead him to believe that an offer was coming this past summer, a source said, but neither possibility came to fruition.
“Everyone was making an excuse. They were going with the youth movement,” Frazier said. “It also seemed like everyone was scared to take a chance with a vet, a Hall of Famer.”
While Anthony was out of the game, he found peace being among his peers, including attending his close friend Dwyane Wade’s final career game last season and competing against the NBA elite during offseason pickup games. But when the NBA season started without him for the first time since he was a rookie in Denver 16 years ago, he began to ponder whether he would play in the league ever again.
“It still doesn’t make sense to me, but I got to a point where I got some clarity with me and what I want and what my goals are,” Anthony said. “As far as anything else making sense, I’m past that. I’m done racking my brain. I spent half a year, almost a year thinking about that and trying to figure out why and what and when it’s going to happen. I’m past that at this point.”
Anthony said it was challenging to stay motivated to work out every day. But ultimately, he got off the couch and got into the gym just in case the phone rang. Frazier, Team Melo vice president of business development and brand strategy Asani Swann and his agent Leon Rose pushed him daily.
Swann, who has been working with Anthony for 10-plus years, said it was important to continue supporting his goals.
“He never gave up on the possibility of playing again, so we didn’t either,” Swann told The Undefeated. “We took the time to dive into some of his other passions while also keeping him in the gym. It was a balance that time never allowed before, and one not taken for granted. We realized we had to keep moving.
“It was our only option and a true testament to Melo’s character. His resolute diligence and confidence pushed us harder and helped us maintain a space of authentic and constant encouragement.”
Anthony’s nightmare finally came to an end when he signed his deal of one year, $2.1 million on Tuesday morning from the Blazers’ team hotel off Canal Street in New Orleans. The deal becomes fully guaranteed if he’s still on the roster on Jan. 7 after 5 p.m.
“I called my son. I called my wife like, ‘It’s happening,’ ” Anthony said. “They were very excited. My wife was like, ‘It’s finally here.’ I think it’s just all the work that they’ve seen me put through and never give up. Stay motivated, stay self-motivated.
“The way that I impacted the people around me even in a time of turmoil and indecisiveness and not knowing. That’s a hard situation to be in.”
On Tuesday night, the struggling Blazers were without All-Star guard Damian Lillard, who missed the game due to back spasms. Head coach Terry Stotts said it is uncertain how long the team’s leading scorer will be out. Starting center Jusuf Nurkic (left leg) has also been out since suffering a leg injury last season, but word is he is progressing well. Meanwhile, big men Zach Collins (dislocated left shoulder) and Pau Gasol (left foot) are also out.
But once the Blazers get healthy, Anthony believes the “sky is the limit.”
“We believe that we can be good once we get going,” he said. “The good thing about this is what, 11-12 games into the season. We still have time to grow with one another. We still have time to figure it out. I’m not coming in after the All-Star break with 20 games left. … I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”
Stotts was impressed by how Anthony looked in a morning workout and pegged him to play in the 20-minute range in his debut. Stotts immediately put him into the starting lineup at power forward for the Blazers and expects that to be the case moving forward.
The Blazers went to Anthony the first three possessions, and he scored his first basket on a 3-pointer at the 10:50 mark in the first quarter. Anthony finished with 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field and making two of his three 3-point attempts. He also tallied five rebounds, four assists, one steal and five fouls in 23 minutes. Anthony even tried to dunk on Pelicans rookie 7-footer Jaxson Hayes, who got the block.
Stotts said Anthony would have played in the clutch if the game were closer and was happy with his new forward’s play.
“He was cool to play with,” CJ McCollum told The Undefeated. “You see what type of spacing he can provide and his decision-making on pick-and-rolls when he gets trapped. Obviously, it was his first game in a long time. He is getting more comfortable with how we play and he will figure out how to contribute and really impact the game.”
Lillard also posted a positive Instagram post after Anthony’s debut:
Anthony described his performance as “cool.”
“I was just happy to be back out there. Playing and getting up and down the court, and putting the uniform back on. It was an experience that I will never forget,” Anthony said.
Perhaps the most meaningful moment of the night came long after the buzzer sounded. Anthony walked out of the arena with his arm around his son with a lesson to be learned:
“In life a lot of times we don’t get second chances,” Anthony said. “This is a second chance for me. This is almost a new beginning for me and I only can look forward from here. I can’t think about what happened over the past couple years.
“I have to look forward and just make this a new experience. Make it fun.”