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As Carmelo Anthony wrestles with end of NBA career, he hopes his legacy will be defined by community outreach

Carmelo Anthony, left, LeBron James, second from left, and Gabrielle Union, second from right, watch as Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade plays his final NBA basketball game, against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Carmelo Anthony, left, LeBron James, second from left, and Gabrielle Union, second from right, watch as Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade plays his final NBA basketball game, against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) (Kathy Willens/AP)

Carmelo Anthony has done it all in his basketball career, leading Syracuse to an NCAA championship in 2003, winning three Olympic gold medals with Team USA and earning 10 All-Star selections in his 16-year NBA career.

Though the former Towson Catholic star’s accolades have not been enough to convince NBA teams to sign him this summer, Anthony’s community outreach contributions have earned him one of the sport’s highest honors.

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Anthony, Dawn Staley and former Harlem Globetrotter TyRone “Hollywood” Brown will accept The Mannie Jackson — Basketball’s Human Spirit Award on Sept. 5 during the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s induction weekend in Springfield, Mass. The award honors “a recognized leader and catalyst for change” by “demonstrating a philosophy of respectfulness, teamwork, commitment and human compassion in all aspects of their lives.”

The 35-year-old Anthony, who grew up in Baltimore and played at Towson Catholic for three seasons before transferring to Oak Hill for his senior year, said he was grateful to be one of the recipients.

“It’s an incredible honor to receive this award, one that speaks to overcoming obstacles and building up community,” he wrote via email.

“Community impact is undoubtedly the most important part of my legacy. It is what you do for others that will last. If I am able to bring hope to even one person who doesn’t see anything hopeful around them or inspire one kid to be more than the labels society may place on them or encourage community members to take care of and stand for one another, then I will know that I’ve spent my time wisely.”

Carmelo Anthony, of the New York Knicks, a former Towson Catholic student, pays a surprise visit to kids at the Carmelo Anthony Youth Development Center. Tyion Taylor, 6, left, a first-grader at Inner Harbor East Academy, shakes hands with Anthony after giving him a strawberry cheesecake.
Carmelo Anthony, of the New York Knicks, a former Towson Catholic student, pays a surprise visit to kids at the Carmelo Anthony Youth Development Center. Tyion Taylor, 6, left, a first-grader at Inner Harbor East Academy, shakes hands with Anthony after giving him a strawberry cheesecake. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Former Harlem Globetrotters owner Mannie Jackson acknowledged that issuing the first couple versions of the award named after him, beginning in 2007, had its share of hiccups because the selection committee was worried about choosing a winner from a pool of worthy candidates.

But Jackson, the first African-American owner of a major sports corporation, has no trepidation about singling out Anthony as “one of the top three winners we’ve selected out of the 32,” adding University of Kansas coach Bill Self and former basketball player and announcer Sonny Hill to that exclusive club.

“I don’t believe that people appreciate the full dimension of Carmelo Anthony as a human being," Jackson, 80, said recently. "I’ve been following him since I met him at Syracuse University with Jim Boeheim and others when the Harlem Globetrotters played Syracuse up there. He had just left college and was going to the NBA, and I said, ‘This guy is going to be something.’ And not just as a ballplayer, but I had no idea that a person at that age could have a vision of what he wanted his life to be like.

"I’ve followed him very closely ever since. … He’s been everything and more than I ever expected him to be.”

Anthony has come a long way to earn such praise, at one time even appearing in “Stop Snitching,” a 2004 DVD that included supposed drug dealers threatening anyone who reported their crimes. At the time, Anthony claimed his appearance was a joke.

The list of Anthony’s community contributions is long. Through the foundation that bears his name, he helped reopen a recreation center in East Baltimore to help youth and young adults reach academic and career goals. He partnered with Courts 4 Kids to build new basketball courts or renovate existing ones in disadvantaged areas in Syracuse and Puerto Rico. He also started a GiveBack program that services over 800 families with food and personal supplies during the holidays.

James Piper Bond, president and chief executive officer of the Living Classrooms Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that seeks to build communities through education, workforce, and health and wellness opportunities, said the organization joined Anthony in reopening the center on Fayette Street after it closed in 2005. Bond said Anthony donated $1.5 million over five years and continued to give $100,000 for a couple of years afterward.

“The students, the community loved that he would take time to spend time with them,” Bond said of Anthony, who visited at least once a year. “I remember our Fresh Start students, who were young men who had been adjudicated at one point, had built him a special chair that they presented to him. He was very well-received by the community.

“Carmelo was great with the kids and the students. He was generous with his autographs, and he spoke well when we had events. He spoke from the heart, and I think he could see that the program at Living Classrooms was really changing lives.”

Ten-time NBA All Star Carmelo Anthony arrives at the Day of Giving  ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 2, 2017, at the Robert C. Marshall Recreation Center, where he played as a child.
Ten-time NBA All Star Carmelo Anthony arrives at the Day of Giving  ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 2, 2017, at the Robert C. Marshall Recreation Center, where he played as a child. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Anthony also helped deliver supplies to residents of Red Hook and Coney Island affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and organized a brunch during All-Star Weekend that helped raise funds for his foundation’s efforts.

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Anthony has been especially active in Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory that was home to his paternal grandparents. In 2012, he hosted a celebrity softball game in San Juan with former NBA stars Amare Stoudemire and Marcus Camby and former New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams, helped found a professional soccer team there, and started a fundraiser to help the island after Hurricane Maria left many residents without power, drinkable water and food in 2017 by making a $50,000 donation.

“I like to do work to remind people that they are not forgotten,” he wrote. “The work we have done in Puerto Rico is an example of that work. I’m inspired by the strength and resilience of the Puerto Rican people. I want to create opportunities to bring hope and inspire the next generation.”

Jackson pointed out that Anthony works tirelessly without seeking the spotlight.

“The magnitude of it surprises me,” Jackson said. “I think the amount of personal giving that he has put forth and the lack of publicity that he has sought around the country and among his peers and others impress me. He’s the kind of guy that does things when no one is looking and no one is paying attention. He has put his own money on the line for things to happen — in his life and his school, the causes he serves. He does those things very quietly and very efficiently.”

Jimmy Butler and Carmelo Anthony pose with kids as part of Worldwide Day of Play at Bahia Urbana Bay Side Park on Aug. 12, 2017, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Jimmy Butler and Carmelo Anthony pose with kids as part of Worldwide Day of Play at Bahia Urbana Bay Side Park on Aug. 12, 2017, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (GV Cruz / Getty Images for Nickelodeon)

Anthony slammed the U.S. government’s lethargic response to aid Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and he took umbrage with President Donald Trump’s caustic attack of Baltimore.

“I think most would agree that when the place you grew up is referenced negatively, it strikes a certain emotion,” he wrote. “My goal in the work that I have done in communities since I have started my basketball career has been about sparking hope and empowering people living in the community to be a part of the change they want to see. I hope that I have the opportunity to continue to be a catalyst for change for many years to come.”

Anthony, who is currently a free agent after being waived by the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 1, did not answer questions about whether he or his agent were in talks to join an NBA team or were willing to wait until midseason to sign with a contender. But he wrote he has added boxing and Pilates to a workout regimen that still includes participating in pickup basketball games.

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Anthony recently opened up about a difficult 2018 season in a one-on-one television interview with Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s “First Take.” After having his Houston Rockets tenure end just 10 games into the season, Anthony said he felt "the game didn’t want me back at that point in time.”

“I’ve been utilizing my services for a long time. For you to tell me you don’t need that no more, I honestly felt that I was fired,” Anthony told ESPN. “I felt like [what] other people go through on a day-to-day basis . . . I honestly felt like I got fired.”

Anthony was also denied a chance to play for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup, which begins Aug. 31 in China. In a recent interview with The Athletic, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said he was concerned about Anthony becoming “a distraction” as he seeks to extend his pro career. “I don’t think it would’ve been healthy for our program at this time,” Colangelo said.

Jackson emphasized that Anthony deserves to play in the 2019-20 NBA regular season.

“The top 10 or 12 teams that are up there are pretty set with their rosters,” he said. “The next 10 or 12 in the middle, I’m shocked. This guy would be great in the community, he would be great in the locker room, he would be great as a player at any level. I think he would be underpaid for what he would provide any team in that situation. That’s how special he is. He would make that team and that community better.”

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