Both softened and matured by age and experience, the young men I knew while in middle school in Baltimore — during the start of Carmelo Anthony’s NBA career — appeared to be emotional (at least on Instagram) on the day “Melo,” as most of us affectionately call the former power forward, announced his retirement Monday.
It was a warm late-May day, nearing 80 degrees in Baltimore. The weather was perfect for a pick-up game, bringing to mind the places where Anthony might’ve played during his formative years near what once was the Murphy Homes public housing project in West Baltimore.
As annoying and disruptive as it could be when the young men in my class crumpled sheets of loose-leaf paper into makeshift basketballs, attempting to shoot them into waste bins only to miss from just a few feet away, I can still hear the sound of the paper hitting the hard-tiled school floors. The rasp in the voice of a teacher who had asked for a stop to the horseplay too many times still rings in my ears today. Occasionally, there would be the satisfying swish of the makeshift ball finding its mark among old, graded papers and discarded milk cartons from that morning’s breakfast or lunch trash collection.
I can’t help but envision where those young men are today, pursuing career paths such as accountants, lab technicians or even esteemed Baltimore-area authors like D. Watkins. Watkins, who collaborated with Melo on the memoir, “Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised,” shared his own heartfelt reflections on Instagram about the NBA star. It’s likely that, at some point, many of these men once also harbored dreams of becoming NBA stars like Anthony, capable of achieving a season similar to his remarkable 2012-2013 campaign. Melo averaged 28.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 67 games with the New York Knicks that year.
We’re told that comparison is the thief of joy. But as I’ve observed from the sidelines, the boys I grew up with, now men in Baltimore, cherish the memories of comparing themselves to NBA stars like Melo. These comparisons served as fuel, propelling them to where they are today. Everyone wanted to be like Michael Jordan until they witnessed a kid born in Brooklyn, who grew up in Baltimore, making it big in the NBA.
While not as iconic (no shade) as some of the braid styles famously worn by Allen Iverson, every guy I knew was getting his hair braided like Melo’s or sporting one of those sweatbands he often wore (even if they couldn’t make a shot at close range into a nearby waste bin). The throwback No. 15 Denver Nuggets jersey worn by Melo became a staple for young men in Baltimore during the early 2000s.
Putting aside the technicalities of handles, long-range jumpers, alley-oops, and ones and buzzer-beaters, I was deeply moved by the retirement announcement video posted by Melo on social media.
He shared, “I remember the days when I had nothing but a ball on a court and a dream of something more.”
These words resonated with me and with many others. Carmelo acknowledged that the people, places and communities he represented shaped him into the person he is today. Even if basketball wasn’t our outlet or if, like many, we experienced a sports injury or another setback before ever having the chance to play 19 seasons in the NBA, we can still draw inspiration from Carmelo Anthony’s legacy.
As a 10-time All-Star and the No. 3 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, his achievements speak for themselves. In that heartfelt and bittersweet farewell, he symbolically passed the torch to his son, signifying the continuation of his legacy.
Within this farewell, there might be a message that resonates with each of us. Carmelo’s journey teaches us the value of perseverance, the importance of the communities that shape us, especially here in Baltimore, and the impact we can have on others.
Interestingly, for these boys and men from Baltimore, comparison doesn’t appear to rob them of joy; instead, it serves as a foundation for its cultivation. Although I’ve never been deeply interested in sports, I’ve observed the cultural significance of Melo’s name, which will undoubtedly remain etched in our memories. His influence on the boys I grew up with, as well as the entire city of Baltimore, is undeniably profound.
Alanah Nichole Davis, a writer, artist and alumnus of Maryland Institute College of Art, works as a freelance communication and design consultant. She lives in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood with her family.