In leading Syracuse University to the 2003 National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball championship, Carmelo Anthony found the kind of attention, fame and fortune that had eluded him growing up in Baltimore.
Viewed as one of the hottest young stars in a league still struggling to fill the void left by Michael Jordan's retirement, Anthony seemed destined for greatness. He was signed to a four-year, $12 million contract and then landed a $20 million endorsement contract with Nike Inc.
He posted impressive statistics his rookie year, and replicas of his powder-blue Nuggets jersey became as popular as those of Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Recently, however, the spotlight has grown more harsh.
Anthony's public image began to change last summer, when he was widely criticized for complaining about his lack of playing time on the U.S. men's basketball team in the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
Anthony had been a late addition to the team coached by Larry Brown of the Detroit Pistons, one of the two organizations that had passed on Anthony coming out of college.
Two New York men were arrested last week after they were found trying to extort $3 million from Anthony in exchange for not releasing a tape of the scuffle to the media.
In October, a travel bag Anthony tried to carry through security in a Denver airport was found to contain less than an ounce of marijuana. Charges against Anthony were later dropped after a friend said that the marijuana belonged to him; the friend now faces a misdemeanor drug charge.
And on Thursday, a locally made DVD made it to television stations here and in Denver showing Anthony in the background while another, unidentified man threatens that people who tip police about drug deals can wind up being killed.
"To be honest, ever since I came back from the Olympics, with all the incidents that have happened, I've been trying to take four steps forward," Anthony said last night. "But every time I take four steps forward, I have to take two steps back because there's always something going on."
He said he was merely visiting friends when captured on the video and was not participating in any crime.
"I would never have thought that this would get as big as it is. It's just bad timing right now because everything is coming down on me at once. People fail to realize and see the good stuff that I do," he said.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who coached Anthony during his one year in college, said the incidents that have become a public relations problem for Anthony - and potentially for the NBA - should be viewed separately.
"The problem is that the media tends to lump all these things together," said Boeheim. "He's a great kid, and I know he's not done anything with drugs. If you look at each thing case by case, there's nothing. As far as the Olympics go, he just wanted to play."
But Boeheim said his former star "needs to make better decisions about where he's going and who he's going with. You can learn those things in college, but he only had one year. When you're learning that in such a big spotlight, there's more potential for problems. I think he'll learn from this."
Nuggets General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe said last night from Denver that Anthony is not the first to have difficulty making the transitions involved in becoming an NBA star.
"He now for the first time in his life has a lot of money, and people know that," said Vandeweghe. "He has a much bigger celebrity status. When that happens, people tend to come out of the woodwork. People are looking to take advantage of you and get close to you."
The recent incidents and the spate of bad publicity are in stark contrast to Anthony's rookie season, where he played well beyond his years and led the Nuggets to their first playoff appearances in nine years.
Playing in all 82 games, Anthony averaged 21 points and 6.1 rebounds in helping the Nuggets go from 17 wins the previous season to 43 last season. The only blip in what appeared to be a spotless record for Anthony was a disagreement with Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik, during which Anthony refused to re-enter a blowout defeat in the fourth quarter.
Otherwise, he played the game with the same joy he showed growing up in West Baltimore, first at the Mount Royal Recreation Center and for three years at Towson Catholic High School. Anthony left Baltimore for prestigious Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va.
"He was a very good player his junior year, but during the spring he played against Shavlik Randolph in the Boo Williams tournament" in Hampton, Va., said New York-based talent evaluator Tom Konchalski. "Shavlik Randolph was supposed to be the next Great White Hope," he said, but Anthony was the best player on the court.
In his one season at Syracuse, Anthony averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds a game to help Boeheim win his first national title. Boeheim, too, has often called Anthony the best player that he had ever coached and perhaps the best ever to play for the Orange.
Anthony has not caused as much of a sensation this year, in part because the Nuggets got off to a slow start. There was even talk of benching Anthony briefly because of his lackluster play, but he goes into tonight's home game against the Miami Heat averaging 19.2 points and six rebounds a game.
The Nuggets, who won only two of their first seven games, are now 8-7. But the team was booed during its loss to the Cavaliers on Thursday night, a game in which Anthony missed 14 of 20 shots and finished with 14 points while playing on a sprained ankle.
"Everybody we meet compares Carmelo to Magic immediately, in his personality and his charm, his wit and how people feel so comfortable with him," Calvin Andrews, who represented Anthony for a Richmond, Calif.-based sports management firm, said earlier this year. "He's the type of client you hope and pray for."
Darrell Corbett, who coached Anthony at Mount Royal Recreation Center from the sixth grade through high school, was surprised by the latest incident.
The young man he knew has moved his mother, Mary Anthony, out of their old neighborhood to a house in Owings Mills. She did not respond to messages left at her home yesterday.
"This doesn't make any sense to me," said Corbett. "As the kid that I knew growing up, that's not him. He's not into stuff like that. He was never into that kind of scene. I'm hoping it's a misunderstanding."
Sun staff writers David Steele, Lem Satterfield, Paul McMullen and Jonathan Pitts, as well as the Associated Press and the Oakland Tribune, contributed to this article.