In My Write Mind
BLACK SPORTS THE MAGAZINE. I encourage you all to pick up a copy, as I am one of the pub's regularly featured writers. Below is my contribution to the November issue. (This one's for free...next month I'm gonna ask you to financially support the mag. LOL)
NBA CO-ROOKIES LEBRON JAMES & CARMELO ANTHONY
Pay attention, Black America—not since Russell & Wilt in their primes has there been such a healthy rivalry between two black athletes in the NBA. A look at their numbers show the two teens as almost equal. A closer look shows that the two franchise players are equally responsible for the future of the Association.
A Matter of “Act”
Some might say it was on Opening Night last year, when he stepped onto the Sacramento Kings’ home floor and erupted for 25 points, nine assists and six boards. Some would argue that it was the first time he topped 40 points, torching Richard Jefferson and New Jersey for 41 on March 27th. Some may point to that night against Memphis when he logged 55 minutes and went for 33 and 16. Or maybe it was the battle with T-Mac on Christmas Day when, in a losing effort, he went mano-a-mano with the Orlando All-Star, posting 34 points in front of a national audience.
It’s true, all of these events were highlights in what was ultimately an award-winning debut season for an 18-year old out of Akron, OH. All of them served notice to the Association that he was here to play—and here to stay. But were any of these turning points? Hardly. That happened well before that first official game, before all the hype and promise that is LeBron James. And even with all of the superlatives that came his way, incredibly, all it managed to do was add to his legend.
You see, LeBron James of the Cleveland Caviliers, and out of St. Vincent-St. Mary high school in Akron, is a walking highlight. And not just due to his basketball prowess. True, that makes him spectacular. However, how he’s handled himself off the court is what makes him special.
Think about all the pressure that was put upon LeBron—at 18 years old—to deliver for his home state team. Think about all the hype that surrounded him even before his rookie season. His high school games were televised on ESPN2. His daily life—from the clothes he purchased to the cars he drove--was dissected for the nation to see. He was anointed the next savior of the NBA based on his play as a “man” among boys half his size while at St. Vincent-St. Mary. To think the level of his play would rise so quickly was optimistic at best. To think his demeanor and personality wouldn’t change was just plain foolhardy.
Put yourself in his $90 million shoes. We’ve seen child actors grow up in the public eye, unable to handle the pressure that celebrity brings, and buckle from the weight. So with LeBron, you just kept waiting for something to happen. Kept waiting for his shoe contract with Nike, or his status as the #1 overall draft pick to go to his head, for him to start acting like, well, a teenager. And he never did. Even though this time he was the boy playing amongst men. Never before has a teenager gone straight from prom to prominence with such maturity. This, during an era in the NBA where players older than him (Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant & Shaquille O’Neal are just a few) continuously make headlines for all the wrong reasons.
James just kept getting bigger and better, remaining poised and oozing cool. He never dropped off mentally or physically, never really ran into the “rookie wall” that so often emaciates young players when they get past the 40-game mark of the regular season. LeBron was the ultimate team player, leading his team in points (20.9), assists (5.9) and steals (1.9), with his high of six steals coming two days before the Christmas game.
Another highlight in a season filled with them. And although the Cavs just missed the playoffs due to a late season swoon, their franchise is in great hands with King James. His legend continues to grow with his own three-coin Highland mint set, his own Powerade flavor (FLAVA23), his Sprite and Nike commercials. Add to that his experience on the USA Olympic basketball team this past summer and the pressure of putting Cleveland back on the basketball map, and you wouldn’t deny LeBron the occasional diva-like outburst or tantrum. That’s not likely, according to those in his close circles. In fact, says his head coach Paul Silas, James has “been groomed for this.”
Indeed, after all the hype, after all the pressure, came the results—being named NBA Rookie of the Year. After seeing how LeBron the player handled the NBA, after handling so much before that, it may be viewed as just a matter of fact. After seeing how LeBron the person handled himself, it’s more like a matter of “act.”
Sweet & melo’
Twenty points. Ten rebounds. Most Outstanding Player Award. An NCAA championship for Syracuse University. That’s the resume that accompanied Carmelo Anthony into the 2003 NBA draft. Anthony, born in New York City and raised in Baltimore, is the first freshman to lead the Orange to the basketball title. In fact, it’s the first Division I title ever for the school. He was the symbol of all that was right in college sports. His game was silky smooth, almost playing with an aloofness that belied his rough and tumble upbringing. He didn’t talk trash. He validated Jim Boehiem’s coaching legacy. To upstate New York, he was a savior. And even with all of that, people were skeptical as to whether his sweet game would be effective in the NBA. Well, at least two teams were, as they bypassed the College Player of the Year, who was selected third by the Denver. Nuggets.
Not many could argue with Cleveland taking hometown product LeBron James at #1. (In fact, the bigger story would’ve been if the Cavs failed to select James.) However, Detroit, owners of the second overall pick, looked past Anthony as well, selecting Serbian Darko Milicic. That could’ve been perceived as a sign of disrespect to Carmelo. If so, he didn’t let on. His inaugural season saw him capture six Rookie of the Month awards while putting up NBA rookie highs by averaging 21 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, shooting 32% from three-point range and leading his class in field goal accuracy at 43%. His sparkling, sweet play proved his college success was no fluke, and had to have at least one NBA exec kicking himself for passing him by.
His numbers were so good, coupled with the fact that the Nuggets made the playoffs for the first time since 1999, he would’ve won Rookie of the Year honors in any other year—except this was the Year of LeBron.
His relationship with James is strong, as evidenced by the show they combined to put on during the February All-Star Game. Their time in the game together on the Rookie squad was filled with high-flying dunks, crisp passes, and a natural camaraderie. Some view Anthony as the anti-LeBron, a claim that must stem from an isolated incident that took place in March during a Nuggets home game. It was during that game that Anthony, apparently peeved by teammates’ comments that he shot too much, refused to play the final six minutes of the 94-75 loss. He apologized to the organization the next day, and ten days later torched Seattle for 41 points in a 124-119 win. He led his team to a 4-2 April, clinching a spot as the number eight seed in the Western Conference playoffs. In Denver’s lone win against Minnesota, Anthony scored a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Fans adore Carmelo, as they see him as one of them—the achiever who always has a lot to prove. His #15 jerseys rank second only to James in NBA player jersey sales and memorabilia dealers have sought to buy every shoe and headband he wears on the court this season.
No one can ever question Anthony’s business savvy. He’s made sound financial decisions, aligning himself with Nike for his sneaker collection that will be out in December 2004. That synergy with Nike also led to his becoming spokesman for his new mentor, Michael Jordan, and his Jordan signature brand.
After a highly successful rookie campaign, selection to the USA Olympic squad and a spot in the NBA playoffs, thus adding to his resume, Carmelo, along with James, is without a doubt the future of the league. And just like Wilt and Russell, who battled year after year for the distinction of best big man ever, ‘Melo and ‘Bron will be battling for the next decade and beyond to establish themselves as the league’s best.
One season down. And it’s almost November. Let the rivalry commence.
scribbled by Will at 11/17/2004 04:18:00 PM
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I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. (Joan Didion)
The Write One
Will. Lefty. Since Summer 1971. Over the next six months, I'll be saying some hellos, some goodbyes. Living, laughing, growing. Don't.miss.a.word.
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