Carmelo Anthony comes back to Baltimore this summer with a purpose, ready and eager to put it into action. "I'm really trying to be the man in this city," he said.
Anthony is much more so now, as he returns to his hometown for a major kickoff event for his charitable foundation, than he was last year, when he came back from a bad experience and soon found himself in an even worse one. By last fall, he was "the man" in a way he'd never expected: the notorious Stop Snitching underground DVD in which he'd had an unwitting cameo had become known, in some quarters, as "the Carmelo video."That's no longer the case, with city police as well as the public focused far more on others who appeared than on the young NBA star. "That's all over now," Anthony said yesterday of the DVD controversy - which was only part of a lost summer for him, including a bad experience with the bronze-medal U.S. Olympic team in Athens, a nightclub scuffle and a drug possession charge.
What's immediately ahead bears little resemblance to that past. This afternoon he will conduct a book signing at the Borders in Lutherville to promote his autobiography aimed at young readers, It's Just the Beginning, for the first time in this area.
Tomorrow, he hosts a basketball tournament, the Melo HOOD Movement 3-on-3 Challenge ("HOOD" stands for "Holding Our Own Destiny") at Cloverdale Courts across from Druid Hill Park, what he proudly touts as the inaugural event for the Carmelo Anthony Foundation.
Much of the reason for this activity, the Towson Catholic alum said yesterday between promotional stops in the city, was that the traditional flood of talent from Baltimore into the pros has slowed lately, and that he was now the biggest name from here. No jersey, for instance, is more visible here than Anthony's blue Denver Nuggets jersey.
When he spoke to the organizers of the summer league run out of Cloverdale Playground about hosting tomorrow's events, Anthony said, "They were all for it. They were waiting for somebody to come back and do something. Nobody really comes back to do stuff here. That's why I want to do it. I want to be the guy that does it."
If the turnout for his last visit home is any indication, it might be best to get to the bookstore early today and the playground tomorrow. When Anthony returned from his final playoff game in May to help Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., kick off an anti-violence initiative near Johns Hopkins Hospital, swarms of kids from the neighborhood and from nearby recreation centers and clubs chased him up and down the street and pressed up against his car until he got out and signed another round of autographs.
The reaction didn't surprise Anthony. "Not at all. This is where I'm from. This is my home," he said. "I'll always have love coming back here. That was a no-brainer."
One aspect of it all, however, is not enough of a no-brainer as far as Anthony can tell.
"I don't want people to think that because of all that [DVD] stuff, that's why I'm doing this," he said. "I've been doing stuff long before that."
The book, for instance, was published a year ago, three months before the DVD hit the streets and dragged his name through the mud. It was big in Denver, and a signing at the NBA Store in Manhattan last September drew a big crowd.
"Everybody's loving it, kids and parents," Anthony said of the book - whose first line is, "It seems crazy, I know, to write a book about my life before I turn 21." Which, by the way, he just turned three months ago.
Still, the bulk of his community work has taken place in Denver. Anthony's focus has recently shifted back to Baltimore, where his foundation will be based, with plans to operate it in Denver eventually.
Just as notable as his community-based appearances in town is the way he has kept moving this summer - avoiding, in that sense, the situation that got him in trouble last year, hanging out in the old neighborhood. He's spent offseason time in Denver, Las Vegas and, last weekend, Miami, at the MTV Video Music Awards; he also filmed a national commercial for PowerBar.
Much of that, of course, is simply a matter of his increasingly high profile, thanks largely to his role in the second-half turnaround of the Nuggets last season. Everything on and off the court has helped erase the bad memories of the previous offseason.
"Everybody gets attracted to bad publicity," Anthony said. "I don't want people to think that's who I am. That was one thing, last year. I'm not going to say I didn't do anything wrong: I'm totally against that [the witness-silencing message of the video], and I wish I hadn't been in it.
"But that's all over. People are seeing who I am," he continued. In fact, he added, what he's doing now with the foundation and the work with youth and the community, "That's what this is about, this whole movement, to help people get out [of that life]."
Doing that would make him "the man" here - and would erase the image of the wrong kind of man that was developing just a year ago.