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Shooting Star

Twenty-five-year-old Carmelo Anthony has an impressive résumé on and off the basketball court.
Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Hugh Grant, November/December 2009

(continued from page 3)

In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the team built by Jerry Colangelo, the former owner of the Phoenix Suns and the National Director of USA Basketball, played more like a team. Colangelo had asked his 2006 players for a three-year commitment to establish the necessary continuity to win in 2008. It worked. They were 5-0 in competition, with an average victory of 103-71. They avenged the 2006 loss to Greece, drubbing them 92-69. They then dusted defending world champion Spain, 119-82. They also settled a score from 2004 with Argentina, dunking them 101-81. Against Spain in the gold-medal game they prevailed 118-107. But the game was not without tension, as the United States led by only two points with eight minutes left.

"We expected it to be a tough game, even though in pool play we won by more than 30 points," Anthony recalls. "I'm pretty sure that they were embarrassed because they were the world champions. We knew the championship game was not going to be a blowout. We were trading baskets and intensity in the end, but every possession counts. If you loved basketball, you would love that experience."

Anthony recalls nothing in his basketball life that rivals the Beijing experience. "It was more exhilarating than the NBA, the national championship, anything. It was the atmosphere and just knowing the stage we were on. It was the biggest stage that anyone can ever possibly be on."

Now his Denver team has posted consecutive 50-win seasons (for the first time in the history of the ABA and NBA franchise). "And this year we got to the Western Conference finals. And this solidifies a lot for me as an individual."

It surely does. The leap from five consecutive first-round losses to a conference final is huge. If the Nuggets had made a few more plays, they might have upset the heavily favored Lakers. Anthony scored 39 points in game one but their bid to swipe one on the road died when Trevor Ariza stole an inbound pass with under a minute left to help Los Angeles to a 105-103 victory. Behind Anthony's 34 points and nine rebounds the Nuggets did steal the second contest, 106-103. But the Lakers won three of the next four games, with Bryant averaging 34 for the series.

Anthony averaged a solid 27.5 for the series, but shot just 41 percent from the field. Over the last four games he hit just 22 of 69 shots, for a lowly 32 percent. These things happen in the life of a scorer, but they are not supposed to happen to members of the Trinity. The last time that occurred was in the 2007 finals, when LeBron James' Cavs were swept by San Antonio and James shot just 36 percent, hitting only 32 of 90 shots.

"I think it came down to more experience," Anthony assesses. "As a unit, I think the Lakers had more experience." No doubt. And the NBA at times seems like a league where you have to lose once or twice before you learn how to win. Just ask Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal. "Nobody is going to get there without obstacles," Anthony concludes, adding "I think we need another big man."

But when the conversation turns to NBA titles, Anthony's talk gets a little tepid. You would think that his having won a national championship with Syracuse and an Olympic gold medal in 2008 makes the time right for a title, or at least some tough talk about getting one. But his reply is different. When I ask about using Jordan's career as a model, he says, "I think everybody wants that career. A guy like [Charles] Barkley had a hell of a career, and didn't win a ring. Elgin Baylor didn't win. You have more great players that didn't win than did win."

But if a magazine anoints three players as part of the second Holy Trinity—and leaves Kobe Bryant, probably the best player in the league, out of that company—isn't it expected that you win? Coach Boeheim sounds a similar note: "It's just so strong out in the West; that's the problem." But a 25-year-old Anthony, with the right cast around him, could overcome that problem.

Anthony still has global goals and expectations. "I just want to bring everything I can to the game, being the best player on the court, being an ambassador of the game and being a face of my community. Not just in Baltimore or New York or Denver, but being a face of the young generation. We are going for a title this year. We were almost there, so we definitely are going to pick up where we left off."

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