NBA star Carmelo Anthony returns to Baltimore for a "Day of Giving." (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun video)
After a tumultuous year during which he'd been mocked as the face of a wayward NBA franchise and subjected to relentless trade rumors, Carmelo Anthony was home.
Anthony, a 10-time All-Star, did not care to discuss whether he'd be a member of the New York Knicks come the start of the 2017-2018 season. Rather, he spoke dreamily of the home runs he'd hit and the baskets he'd scored at the very same Robert C. Marshall Recreation Center in West Baltimore where he stood on Wednesday morning. Around his neck he wore a medallion, given to him by Mayor Catherine Pugh for his service to the city.
One of the most dissected professional athletes in the country said he felt completely at peace.
"It's been an emotional roller coaster," he said when asked to describe the past 12 months since he won a third Olympic gold medal last summer in Rio de Janeiro. "But I've had to find peace, to come to peace with myself and the situation I'm in. Kind of try to find happiness again. I think I lost that a little bit, but I'm finding it, and it feels good."
Anthony was in town to host The Basketball Tournament, a winner-take-all event that will stage its $2 million championship game at Coppin State on Thursday evening. As part of the event, TBT officials organized a "Day of Giving" on Wednesday, featuring a job fair at Coppin and clean-up and beautification efforts at 12 sites around the city. The effort kicked off at Marshall Recreation Center, one of the places Anthony honed his skills as a Baltimore youth.
"I done played on this exact field," he told a crowd of kids wearing bright green Baltimore Rec & Parks t-shirts. "I didn't have a dream then. … But this community made me what I am."
"What you've done is help shine a national light on this city," Pugh told the former Towson Catholic star as his mother, Mary, looked on. "You didn't have to do it, but you did."
Even in Baltimore, Anthony could not escape questions about his future with the Knicks. Though he averaged more than 20 points per game for the 14th straight season, he endured one of his most difficult years in 2016-17. At 31-51, the Knicks never sniffed playoff contention, and their front office became the laughingstock of the NBA. Fans lashed out at Anthony, saying the franchise needed to move on from him and bemoaning the no-trade clause that perhaps prevented team president Phil Jackson — since fired — from dealing the superstar forward. Anthony's separation from his wife of seven years, La La, also became tabloid fodder, though the couple has remained married.
Anthony, 33, was relentlessly noncommittal in discussing his future NBA home, though he said he has communicated with new Knicks general manager Scott Perry. He described himself as "away from the fray." He sported a grown-out vacation beard and haircut and said he has thought more about his son's Amateur Athletic Union games than his own career.
"I'm good," he said, grinning. "I just cut a ribbon. We're here in Baltimore. I got a medal from the mayor today. That's all I'm focusing on."
He described Jackson's firing as "a business decision" by Knicks owner James Dolan.
Reporters even asked Pugh if she thought Anthony would be a Knick next season. "Carmelo Anthony will be whatever he wants to be, because that's the kind of man he is," she said, deftly avoiding a prediction. "Whoever has the opportunity to embrace him will understand that they've got a champion, and not only someone who knows basketball but is committed to the community and the team he plays for."
Anthony had hoped to root for a team of fellow Syracuse alumni, known as Boeheim's Army, in the TBT final. But they lost in the semifinals Tuesday night. Tournament founder Jon Mugar gave Anthony a Boeheim's Army jersey on Wednesday. "They could've used you," Mugar joked.
"I was sad because I wanted to see them tomorrow night and feel that Syracuse energy once again," Anthony said.
But nothing could ruin his mood as he reflected on his rise from West Baltimore to the highest levels of basketball.
"This is all I had," he said of his old neighborhood recreation center. "To be able to wake up — mom working two jobs in a single-parent household, come to school every day not knowing what was going to happen — this was, for me it was just a survival tactic at that point, just to get through the day. I didn't know what was going to happen to me, but I stuck with it and I had good people in my corner. And that's what I'm here today to talk about."