Melo's Transition Game

Drug bust. Bar fight. Gangster cameo. Benched at the Olympics. Feuds with his coaches. After a season to forget, 21-year-old Carmelo Anthony is an NBA star who’s now learning to live without the ball.

November 2005

One night last June, over a hundred guests gathered in the enormous backyard of an enormous Cherry Creek Village mansion for a fancy soiree. Food servers hustled across the plush lawn toting trays of sushi and popsicle-green party drinks. Under a big, white tent, the predominantly white crowd, dressed in country club casual, mingled. In the midst of it all, next to the tent, a backboard and rim had been raised, for that one night for one person, Carmelo Anthony. The Denver Nuggets' franchise player had on his best baggy jeans, Nike sneakers, and a backward baseball cap over his tight cornrows.

The party was a fund-raising dinner and auction to benefit Colorado's 24 Family Resource Centers, which assist local families who've fallen on hard times. However, the draw for many if not most of the guests-the reason they'd each paid a $500 tax-deductible fee to attend-was Anthony. The affair was officially billed as "A Very Melo Summer Evening." Not long after he put on the Nuggets uniform three years ago, Anthony began working with the charity, a decision he made with his mother, Mary. A single mother who'd raised Anthony and his three siblings in East Coast ghettos, she understood what it was like to need a helping hand. Mary had even joined the charity's board. She was there at the Cherry Creek fund-raiser, along with Anthony's fiancée, MTV veejay Alani "LaLa" Vasquez, and Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe.

Anthony didn't spend much time in the big, white tent. The 21-year-old multimillionaire quickly headed to the half-court and started shooting baskets. As the auction began, everyone in the crowd kept one eye on the auctioneer and one eye on Anthony. It was impossible to resist watching him gracefully release three-pointers, out there at one with the ball and the net and the rhythm of a dribble. There was something sweet and soulful in the spectacle. There was also something a little sad. Here was a young man surrounded by so many people, who'd come to be near him, yet he was off by himself, like a lonely kid, playing a game. Every so often he'd stop to pull up his pants.

The first item up for bid was a weekend in New York and a visit to MTV, courtesy of LaLa. It went quickly. So did several sets of Nuggets tickets. The momentum built, the bids fast in coming. Next up was a painted portrait of Anthony soaring toward a basket in Nuggets pale blue and yellow. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid. Nothing. Not a sound. The picture sat up there propped on its easel, with the crowd staring at it silently. Out on the court Anthony stopped dribbling and turned his attention to the auction. The moment was intensely awkward, one where guests wanted to look away, maybe race off to get their keys from the valet. But then Anthony tilted his head, threw his kid-like smile, raised his hand, and made the first bid. On himself. Immediately, the tension broke and the bidding resumed, with the portrait going to an obviously well-heeled fan for $1,100.

The directions to find Carmelo Anthony aren't the best. One of his "people" had told me the cross streets and that I should look for a tan and pink building. So now, sitting in my car, I see four buildings that fit that description. And they all have bars on the windows. It's a few weeks after the Family Resource Centers event, and I'm trying to get to the recording studio where I'm supposed to meet Anthony. I'm told he hangs there practically every day when he's in town and not on the court.

There's a parking lot behind one of the buildings. I see three guys standing around some 4-foot-high speakers, under a basketball hoop. I walk over and tell them I'm supposed to meet Anthony at a recording studio. I ask if this is the place. The three young men aren't quite sure what to make of me, a middle-aged white woman in a minivan, asking for Anthony. Yeah, they say, he'll be here. We just saw him, they say, but he's always late. The guys introduce themselves: Zeezo, Daniel, and Mars. Daniel sits on a folding aluminum chair. He says he's a singer and that he does a lot of gospel.