Twenty-five-year-old Carmelo Anthony has an impressive résumé on and off the basketball court.
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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."
Whatever the title hopes are for the near future, Anthony seems to have put controversies behind him. Over a four-year period between 2004 and 2008 he was accused of a litany of piddling offenses, such as marijuana possession (charges were dropped when a friend signed an affidavit taking responsibility for the marijuana), and taking part in an ill-advised video called, "Stop Snitchin'" that warned residents of Baltimore who collaborated with the police that they would face violence. Later, a friend was pulled over in Anthony's vehicle and cited for marijuana possession. Anthony was handed a 15-day suspension for his part in a brawl at Madison Square Garden in which he hit Knicks guard Mardy Collins and then ran. Finally, in 2008 he was arrested in Denver for a more serious charge of driving under the influence, a charge dropped when he pleaded guilty to driving while ability impaired.
None of this seems to rise to the level of carrying a gun without a license and shooting yourself or electrocuting dogs or vehicular homicide while driving drunk—all of which we've seen from NFL players in the last two years. But Anthony felt it was time to change.
"That's when I sat down and had a chance to have a talk with myself. You're not in Baltimore no more. You're in a new era of the NBA, the new generation of the NBA, not just basketball. The young generation as a whole looks up to me. Is this something I really want to do? Do I want to be great, or do I just want to be an average person and an average basketball player? I came too far and I worked too hard just to be average. I want to be great. I had to sit down with myself and dig deep and ask myself what I want to do and really realize that I have my own destiny in my own hands. There are things that you do growing up; I hate to make excuses, but I was 18, 19, 20 and it happened. My big thing is just learning from that mistake."
Trying to improve on his past includes spending time at home with his fiancée Alani "La La" Vazquez and his two-year-old son, Kiyan Anthony, whose father marvels that he has the patience to watch football games from start to finish. And he says he may even try other cigar brands besides his go-to Nicaraguan favorite. "I already know how a Padrón tastes, so I might try something different. But I am primarily a Padrón guy. If I am out and about I might try something else." That sounds like the philosophy of someone who has miles to go before he sleeps.
A frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado, Kenneth Shouler was the managing editor and chief writer for Total Basketball: The Ultimate Basketball Encyclopedia.