We Built This: Carmelo Anthony Knows His Influence Is Bigger Than The NBA

Carmelo Anthony will go down in the Hall of Fame. There’s no doubt about that. He’s a 10-time NBA All Star, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and his career-high single scoring game is a whopping 62 points.

But pundits and fans have began to question Anthony’s impact recently, as he’s been traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets to the Chicago Bulls where his contract was waived, making him a free agent. What doubters don’t realize, is that, possibly now more than ever, Anthony’s destiny is in his control.

In recent years, Anthony has found his voice on and off the court, he told HuffPost. And he’s still building upon it, not only with basketball, but with his activism and charity. Anthony was one of the first athletes to march in the streets with activists. In 2015, he joined Baltimore protesters after Freddie Gray had been killed, even before the intersection of sports and social justice made it to the modern mainstream conversation. In 2016, he made a single Instagram post urging his fellow athletes to use their platforms to stand up against injustice and a domino effect could be seen through the world of sports as other athletes raised their voices. Following in the footsteps of Muhammad Ali and Tommie Davis, Anthony won’t let anyone silence him.

For HuffPost Black Voices’ “We Built This” series, Anthony spoke to us about his future in basketball, his advocacy work and how his Afro-Latinx roots empower him. 

What have you built?

What have I built? I’ve built myself up as far as who I am as a person, as far as my business, my family, things that surround me. So it’s all about building almost an empire, but that’s a little bit cliché-ish for me.

I think for the most part when you talk about building something, you got to get brick by brick. Right? Whatever that brick is, first of all you got to lay down a foundation before you build something. Have a plan, lay the foundation. Every brick is going to build towards something. It’s a room. It’s a basement. It builds something. We need each and every brick for that.

Let’s talk about that foundation. You grew up in Red Hook, playing street ball, doing what you love. When you were young on the court, messing around, did you ever envision how big you wanted to be?

Not at all. We always had dreams, but a lot of time those dreams were just out of reach. They were just far-fetched and some of the dreams was to just wake up the next day. What’s going to be our next meal? I wish I had this to eat. I wish I had that to eat. Or I wish I had these pair of sneakers or this pair of clothes.

Dreams about making it to the NBA and out of that environment, we’ve never had those dreams. We’ve thought about it, but it was just a dream that it would never come true for us.

What is basketball to you and how has that definition evolved?

Basketball was always ... it became my love. It was like a girlfriend. It was somebody like I grew up with, like the round-the-way girl, the girl next door. I grew up with her. I walked the streets at night with her. I got lonely with her. When I was sad, I was with her. She was there for me every step of the way. For me, that’s what basketball is, even now.

I use that to build my foundation. That doesn’t go anywhere. You just build on top of that. 

You’re one of the NBA greats and you came in with a class in which you stood out, and you made your way. You set yourself apart from the rest of the pack. At the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, and all of this, all the shot clock is gone off, and all that, what legacy do you want to leave behind?

I just want to be able to say that I did it. I did it all. I’ve had success, and I’ve had struggles. I’ve had great times. I’ve had bad times, but overall the great outweigh the bad. I put my all into this game. I’ve been playing this game since I was 8 years old. So when it’s all said and done, it’s all said and done. It’s a real retirement. It’s not a retirement from when I was 19 years old coming into the NBA. It’s a retirement from 8 years old. That’s a long job to have. I’ve been playing that game more than half of my life.

It’s just something you got to come to an agreement with. You got to sit down and really figure, OK, this is what’s going to be. This is how it’s going to end, but you got to feel good about that. You can’t do it on somebody else’s terms. You got to feel good about putting that to bed and moving on to the next phase in life.

Do you know when that retirement would happen?

I’m sure it’s coming soon. I’d be sitting lying to you if I said it’s not coming soon. I think I want it to come soon. I don’t think I want to do this forever, but because you love it so much, it’s hard to give it up. At the end of the day, at anything you do, when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go. But as long as you feel good with that.

One thing that I always admired about you in your career is that you were always more than just a basketball player. You really got up there, and you stood up and spoke out against injustices at the height of Black Lives Matter before a lot of other athletes did. And you implored your peer athletes to stand up and talk about these things. What was going through your head when you began merging activism and sports, and how has that responsibility evolved since?

I think we all have it in us. We all have that activism inside of us. It’s a matter of, are we willing to allow that to come out? At the end of the day for me, I know I was always connected with “activism” and revolution. My dad was a big part of that when I was young, so it was always a part of who I am, my makeup.

It wasn’t until I got older that I realized when I started having a voice, how powerful my voice was, and how many people I could bring along with me. Also, when things happen in our society, in our community, it’s easy for us to brush it off. It happens and it’s like, “Oh, shit like that happens,” and on to the next thing, because we feel like it’s not happening to us. It’s not personally happening to us. We see it. It’s in our community, but we on to the next thing. The next news cycle. The next highlight. We on to the next thing in life.

Until it started hitting home with me, that’s when I was like, I really have to step up and say something, whether somebody’s going to like it or not, whether my peers going to like it or not, whether they going to get on board or not, whether the owners is going to back me or talk trash about me or say I shouldn’t be doing this or what. It was a time to really take a stance.

It was so powerful that whoever didn’t side with me and have my back was looking crazy, because it was just so much going on out there for them not to say anything. I’m talking about athletes. I’m talking about friends. I’m talking about family. I’m talking about people in the street, whoever it was, from all walks of life. If you didn’t feel what was going on in our community at the time, then you wasn’t a human being. You wasn’t human, then you didn’t have no feelings about anything.

There are so many little kids, especially little black boys, looking up to you and seeing you out there, seeing you not only on the courts, but in the streets rallying. What message would you like to send, especially to the young black boys who really look up to you?

Don’t be afraid to have a voice. Don’t be afraid to use your voice at the end of the day, even though you might be feeling like you’re young and nobody’s going to listen to you, nobody’s going to pay attention to you. There’s a lot of kids that’s crying out out there that’s not being heard, because they feel like they can’t. There’s no hope for a lot of kids out there. They believe that.

For me, to give them that access and that motivation and that confidence to speak up or whatever it may be in their household, in their community, not in a disrespectful way, but you just have to empower the youth. If you empower the youth, then you good. We good, because we feel comfortable in what we are doing by empowering the youth.

What was that point in your life where you felt like you finally found your voice?

I think a couple of years ago is when I started to realize how powerful my voice was. I always felt like I had a voice, but I started realizing how powerful my voice was maybe a couple of years ago. Knowing that I could kind of gather people and people would also look up to me as far as being that leader when it comes to stepping up and being in the forefront and talking and putting these messages out and really saying enough is enough. That’s when I realized how powerful my voice was.

I always had that voice. I always had these thoughts, and I always had these opinions and things I would want to do and things that I wouldn’t want to see, but until you start to kind of put that play in motion, it really doesn’t mean anything.

How do you exemplify that through your charitable works and giving back to the community?

[Through] my foundation, we’ve been building courts in underprivileged neighborhoods, underprivileged communities from New York all the way down to Puerto Rico. We probably got 11 courts in Puerto Rico that people don’t even know about, but it’s there. As long as we are doing that job and we are affecting the people that’s down there in a positive way, that’s all that matters.

We got courts here in New York and Baltimore and South Africa. That’s just one part of my foundation. That’s one pillar of it. We’re starting to get into other different realms of life as far as science and technology and education. We do something where we take care of the teachers. I’m big on taking care of the teachers. We do tools for teachers where every year we get a bunch of teachers from different schools, and we take care of them, because, at the end of the day, a lot of times there are the parents. They are the chaperones of these kids. These are the people that the kids look up to if they want an extra opinion, if they need an extra book, or something like that. A lot of times the schools don’t have the resources to give those kids that, so that’s another thing that I do in my foundation.

We are just growing, man. It’s whatever I feel at that time that I want to be connected to, then I’ll sit down and draw the plan up and map it out.

You take so much pride in your identity. A lot of people don’t even know what the hell Afro-Latino is. The fact that you lean into that and you empower folks with that is important. How does your identity empower you to continue to stand up and do this work?

I had to dig deep and start to research and ask questions about kind of who I was, and where I come from, and who was my father, and who was my mom, and who was they family, and on and on and on. So once I started to do that research, I realized who I was. Once you find out who you are, nobody can take that away from you. It’s just about building on top of that and taking advantage of who are you.

For me, it was like once I found out exactly who I was, my genetic makeup and where I get my mindset from. I went back to where it all started for me, which was Puerto Rico. Now, being down there, it was a genuine organic relationship between myself and between the island and between my people. It’s organic. It wasn’t forced. We’ve going down there for almost 10-plus years now, giving back down into the islands, so that relationship is organic. It’s natural. It’s not forced.

For them to open their arms up and to open that island up to me and my family and to us to be able to go down there and allow us to do the things that we do, I will forever be indebted to that community.

Have you been back since the hurricane?

I’ve been back once, but with me it’s hard to get back with the season and all of that stuff, but my team ... I have a team now. They’re on the ground where everyday we are trying to figure out what’s next and what to do. We partnered up with Feed the Children where we feed hundreds and thousands of people and families. It’s just things that we do that’s on the ground every day. That is not being exposed and not being talked about, but we there. We got boots on the ground.

What have been just in general some challenges and obstacles that you’ve had to overcome in order to build your legacy?

I think more so ego and pride, being able to put that to the side and battling that at the end of the day, because everything that we do in the position that I’m in, and maybe you too in the position that you are in, we battle with things that touches our ego, things that touches our pride. How are we going to react to that when somebody do this or somebody do that or say that or say this?

We can’t let our ego and our pride take over. That’s something that I had to learn over time, because me being who I am, nothing should affect me. My perception is everybody shouldn’t let that affect them, not that I’m bulletproof, but I’m human at the end of the day.

As long as we get past the ego and the pride and really figure out, OK, this is what it is, this is what it’s supposed to be, this is what not it’s supposed to be, then I think we’re good after that. 

 

Photo shoot produced by Christy Havranek. Audio production by Nick Offenberg and Sara Patterson. Hair & makeup by Miyako J Beauty.

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