You wouldn't know it by watching him play, but basketball was not Carmelo "Melo" Anthony's first love. "That was baseball," says the 29-year-old star player with the New York Knicks. "But whatever season it was, that's what sport I played. I didn't have a real love for any one sport."
Then he grew up. Way up. In the summer between his sophomore and junior years of high school, Anthony added 5 inches to his frame to reach 6 feet, 7 inches. "That's when I really fell in love with basketball."
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No doubt his height helped him dominate on the courts, but he had always been a supremely able player. From the time he was a child, if he had a basketball in his hands, he could put it in the basket. "It was always something that I just knew how to do," says Anthony. "I was always able to score points."
That ability, coupled with a resolve born of his upbringing, has brought Anthony a long way.
Carmelo's Hoop Dreams
Anthony was born in 1984 in New York City, in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood, which, four years later, Life magazine described as "a community ruled by crack." His Puerto Rican father, Carmelo Iriarte, died of liver cancer when Anthony was 2. It was a tough beginning for the future superstar, and circumstances would only get harder.
When he was 8, Anthony and his mother, Mary Anthony, moved to one of Baltimore's toughest neighborhoods, the blighted, drug-ravaged landscape portrayed in HBO's The Wire. There, he surrounded himself with a tight circle of friends, and they hung together like a protective shield. Instead of getting caught up in the drugs and violence that marred their community, they earned money by scraping grime off the windshields of passing cars. They played sports together. They held each other up, Anthony says.
"We'd all push each other. We'd get each other in the morning, walk to school, walk to practice, like a little breakfast club," he recalls. "I didn't have anyone to show me which steps to walk, which way to go. I didn't have that in my neighborhood. But I had my peers, and we pushed each other, we motivated each other."
When they weren't out trying to make a few bucks, they spent afternoons and weekends on the basketball courts at the Robert C. Marshall Recreation Center. The facility was a haven for Anthony, an escape from the streets. Then, when he was 13, the rec center closed. It was a bitter setback, Anthony says, but one that taught him a valuable lesson. "You have to survive on your own, and believe it or not, that closing kind of changed my nature. When they closed it down, I had to ask myself, 'What's next?'"