The past four months have been tough for Carmelo Anthony, tougher than just about anything he has had to face in his 20 years on Earth. But the Baltimore native, by his reckoning, hasn't let the stress of the moment change him.
"It takes a strong person to deal with all this stuff, to be the same person," Anthony said by phone Friday night from Denver. "Even though all this stuff is going on, I'm still the same person. Nothing has changed, and I realize that. Nothing in this world will be able to take away my family, my identity and this game of basketball, which is something that I love to play."
It's been that love of basketball that has sustained Anthony through one of the roughest periods in recent memory. From the time the Nuggets were eliminated from the NBA playoffs in April, Anthony's image has taken one blow after another.
After making the U.S. Olympic team after a stellar rookie season, Anthony languished on the bench in Athens and groused about his lack of playing time, which drew the ire of coach Larry Brown and got him branded as a selfish player.
Anthony, a Towson Catholic alum, said the lesson he took from the Olympics was "to keep my mouth shut, regardless. If things aren't going your way, keep your mouth shut and just keep going with it, keep going with the flow. Everything can't always go your way."
When he returned from Greece, Anthony was involved in a scuffle at a New York nightclub with a rapper, while he was defending his girlfriend, MTV host La La Vasquez. Anthony said the fight wasn't planned and he was defending himself.
The 6-foot-8 forward was charged with possessing less than a half-ounce of marijuana in a bag he was carrying at Denver International Airport in October, and was the victim of an extortion attempt stemming from the nightclub incident.
The misdemeanor marijuana charge was dropped by prosecutors when a friend of Anthony's admitted that he had stashed the substance in Anthony's bag for safekeeping.
The latest incident arose Thursday when a DVD, which was taped in September, surfaced. During the video, a man believed to be a drug dealer speaks of doing harm to people who cooperate with police.
Anthony, who appears in the video, though not during any portion where the alleged drug dealer is speaking, expressed surprise that so much was being made of the DVD, a portion of which aired locally on Channel 2.
All he was doing, in his mind, was returning to his old neighborhood to reconnect with friends.
"I don't really understand," said Anthony, who will lead the Nuggets into Washington on Wednesday against the Wizards. "I just want to be myself. And now, you mean to tell me that I can't go home and chill and go visit my people that I grew up with all my life?
"For people to say, 'Get rid of them now,' no, I'm not going to get rid of them. They're still going to be my friends. At the same time, I know how to handle the situation better now."
More than anything, Anthony views this recent series of missteps as bad luck, and says "people fail to realize and see the good stuff that I do."
Anthony is the star of an entertaining series of new Nike commercials, with comedian Tommy Davidson narrating the spots. He held a Christmas party the day before the video surfaced and held a Thanksgiving celebration the week before in Denver.
Sales of his "Melo" candy bar have helped him raise more than $100,000 for Colorado charities, including his pet cause, the Family Resource Center.
And, despite impressions that his play is off from last season, when he finished as runner-up to the Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James for Rookie of the Year honors, Anthony said he is playing well, with better things to come.
Anthony, who averages 19.2 points a game, said he works out regularly at home with Denver general manager Kiki Vandeweghe, even after a full practice, to hone his craft. And he is looking forward to the rest of December, when, if last season is an indicator, his game will take off.
But there is still the specter of James, whose Cavaliers stomped the Nuggets in Denver on Thursday, and who leads Anthony in most statistical categories.
The gap, however, is not so wide as to declare a winner between them, or at least not in Anthony's view.
"It [the comparison] definitely always goes on," Anthony said. "One day, I was watching ESPN and it [the tease] was like two phenoms going in the opposite direction. I was like, 'Damn, we're doing the same thing.' "
Anthony is concerned about how people see him in view of his recent problems, admitting that sprucing up his image is "big on my plate." Ultimately, though, he said he realizes that there are those who will see in him whatever they want regardless of what he tries to project.
In the end, Anthony knows the place where he will always look best is the place where they have to take you when you go there: home.
"People love me back there, from what I know," Anthony said. "I haven't been back there since the summertime, but people love me. And I will always want that, for my hometown to love me."