THE EASIEST THING for most of us to say to someone like Carmelo Anthony is, "Get away from those negative forces in your past, and don't ever go back."
The hardest thing for someone like Carmelo Anthony to do is - well, exactly that, to get away from those forces and never come back. No matter what it looks like, no matter who is there and what they are doing, no matter how much sense it makes in both the short term and long term, it's home.
"I don't know what he could do differently," Calvin Andrews, Anthony's agent, said yesterday. "This is where he grew up."
Andrews was talking a lot like an agent then. In the same conversation, though, he sounded like a man who understands where his client - and so many of his fellow NBA players - came from, and why telling him to separate from that is easier said than done.
Andrews (who was an Amateur Athletic Union coach before he began representing players) and his associates, and NBA officials and Nuggets officials, and probably a few hundred people legitimately close to Anthony, have surely said it in one way or another over the years. Every player who ever stepped out of a place like West Baltimore and into a multimillion-dollar contract and the fishbowl it creates has been given the lecture, shown the cautionary tales, even attended the NBA's seminar to teach the pitfalls to avoid.
You can't even say for certain that Anthony doesn't get it. At best, you can say that he gets it as well as the average 20-year-old two years removed from high school and flung headfirst into a lucrative and alluring yet alien and unfamiliar culture can possibly get it.
"I wouldn't say [we've told him], 'Stay out of trouble,' " Andrews said. "It'd be more like, 'Watch where you go.' "
Anthony, and a lot of other people, could convince themselves that he did nothing wrong - and the facts so far back them up. All he did was go to his old stomping grounds, yuk it up with his friends, bask in their adulation and goof off when someone pulled out a camcorder. He didn't hurt anybody. In fact, he probably was even more of a hero afterward, because he didn't forget where he came from, not even after winning a national championship, exploding onto the NBA scene and making the Olympic team.
Who knew he was going to end up spliced onto those DVDs? Who knew what else would end up on the recording? Who knew that anything Anthony would do would end up on something titled, "Stop [Expletive] Snitching" and give a de facto endorsement of that vile message, one so completely at odds with the life he had led to that point?
Easy answer: He should have known. He should have been careful. He should have watched where he went.
And it's a good answer. It's the only answer that makes sense in the world Anthony inhabits now. Separating from the people who knew you before you were part of The Next Era (tied with LeBron the way Magic was linked to Larry) sounds unfair, especially when presented with the alternative: trusting total strangers who think of their best interests more than his.
But when some, any, of those familiar people bring you down, it's a lesson learned the hard way.
That's why so many people have lined up over the years to make sure Anthony does nothing to jeopardize the life opened up to him because of his skills - and does nothing to revert to the life so many others in the neighborhood have become resigned to. He's special, and it's important to him, his family and everyone connected to him that he remain special and maximize that gift.
The challenge, then, is getting him to understand precisely what of his past is going to jeopardize it all. His very presence on those DVDs threatens it. Perception is reality. The timing doesn't help, not two weeks after the continuous loop of Ron Artest and friends brawling with Pistons fans and with the commissioner in no mood to have his power challenged or the image of his league tainted.
Yet Anthony's own troubles are what led him, in part, back home at that time - in late summer, between his trip to Athens and the start of Nuggets training camp. He'd had a bad summer, and he sought solace in familiar surroundings.
Indications are that Anthony realizes the damage done by the public discovery of the films. Still, it's one thing to realize that, and something else entirely to be mature and strong enough to do the right thing from then on. All the speeches and pleas and mentoring and hard lessons can't replace experience.
Anthony is yet another player who, while barely out of his teens, is navigating a minefield that players four or five years older struggle to get through safely. A couple of mines already have exploded. Refusing to enter a game. Sulking in Athens. A bar fight. An extortion attempt against him. A bag of marijuana. Now, a set of crazy DVDs.
Now, the mines he has to avoid are lying in the streets of his hometown. Bolting completely makes sense in theory, but is harder in execution. But he can't afford another explosion, especially not one so close to home.