In this city, Anthony holds court in big way

Sam Cassell stretched out his hands, the ones that held the imaginary torch."It's passed," Cassell said with the smile that still can't be mistaken for any other. "Here it is, 'Melo, here it is."

Carmelo Anthony wasn't standing right there to physically accept what Cassell was handing him. In reality, Anthony already had taken it, and the sea of humanity swarming all over the Cloverdale courts yesterday was proof.

It was Anthony's second annual Melo's HOOD (Holding Our Own Destiny) three-on-three basketball tournament and family day, and Cassell, who completed the Baltimore-to- NBA journey a decade before Anthony, was there to pay homage.

Before the day was out, Rudy Gay, leader of the next generation after Anthony, had shown up as well. Later, in walked Ernest Graham, from a couple of generations before Cassell. They were among several thousand people of all ages who came through during the sun-drenched afternoon.

It was a testament to how much of a pied piper Anthony is here. Around the NBA, others in his 2003 draft class (namely LeBron James and Dwyane Wade) are considered a notch above right now, and he definitely is preceded by legends in Baltimore - but right now, in his hometown, he rules.

"I'm a guy that came into the league in the '90s, and he came in the 2000s. This is his era," said Cassell, who will turn 37 early next season and is a free agent after leading the Los Angeles Clippers on their longest playoff trek in franchise history.

"I told him he can be even bigger. It's up to him," Cassell continued. "One day, I can see Carmelo bringing a celebrity basketball game into the [ 1st Mariner Arena]. He's got the magnitude that he can bring Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to Baltimore, the way Alonzo Mourning does with Zo's Summer Groove [every year in Miami].

"I think the sky's the limit for him. It's up to him, if he wants to do it."

He does, in his own way.

"I've got a movement going on up here, man," Anthony said as he crossed the park one last time, some eight hours after the event began and after he had signed every last autograph requested. "I'm going to take it on the road next year, to five cities."

He meant it; he envisions holding similar events up and down the East Coast and in Denver - where his immediate NBA future lies, after agreeing this weekend to a five-year "max" extension with the Nuggets for a reported $80 million.

Anthony, who turned 22 in late May, politely declined to talk about the pending deal. But he couldn't stop talking about how yesterday's event went, and how it could multiply in the future, and how he hopes to do something in Baltimore for Thanksgiving and Christmas, too.

The crowd and positive energy of yesterday's festivities even surprised him a little. "Last year was good; this year was even better," he said. "We want to make it even better next year."

It's impossible to imagine anyone getting in his way about it. Stand near him long enough yesterday, and you would beconvinced that he knew everybody there; walk through the park and around the courts, and you would think that everybody knew everybody else.

"I [grew up] like five minutes from here; we were right down the block," Anthony said, pointing in the general direction of Myrtle Avenue in West Baltimore. "These are all people I grew up with, people who supported me, and now they're supporting my cause."

There was a who's who of youth, rec center, middle and high school coaches from across the city, their former and current players (and in some cases, the former players' children). It was Baltimore's basketball universe, revolving around its white-hot center.

Anyone from the outside who had walked in and started talking about the Olympics, the "Stop Snitching" DVD, the Nuggets' three first-round playoff losses or the ring Wade just won, would never have gotten in a word edgewise.

To everyone who knows him, he is the best of role models. "It's a good feeling - when you're little, you're playing and you see someone like 'Melo watching you, it feels good," said Gay, whose draft-day trade from the Houston Rockets to the Memphis Grizzlies is expected to become official next week. "Now, you can do the same thing for those kids coming up right now."

Even though he got there late in the day because of an appointment with one of his endorsers, Gay didn't even think of skipping the tournament. "Once you find something going on like this, you've got to support it," he said. "It's all part of playing in Baltimore."

On its second try, Anthony's summer tournament is well on its way to being a part of Baltimore itself. As Cassell said, that's how much magnitude he has. The torch is his, and it's blazing away.

"There were a lot of smiles on people's faces," Anthony said as the day drew to an end, "and that's what it's all about."

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad