EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE, a surreal moment occurs in the life of Carmelo Anthony. He will be out somewhere, maybe at a dinner or a business gathering, and he will be introduced to a person, perhaps a very capable person, who knows many things about many things, but does not know who Carmelo Anthony is. This seems improbable, given that the 28-year-old Anthony is one of the most public and scrutinized athletes in the media fun-house mirror of New York City, but it does happen. Sometimes the person has a vague idea. Sometimes they recognize just Anthony’s first name—Carmelo, yes, it rings a bell—and nothing else. They don’t know much about NBA basketball. They don’t know much about the New York Knicks.

Picture 8This doesn’t insult Anthony. Not at all. This is a relief. Anonymity makes him happy.

“I love having those conversations,” Anthony says on a January afternoon. He says this earnestly, as if he’s describing a guilty pleasure he wishes he could enjoy more. “Because if there is a connection, it’s a natural connection. It’s not anything to do with basketball.”

These moments do not happen often. Chances are they will be happening less and less. Anthony is deep into his third season in New York, and the Knicks are playing some of their best basketball in more than a decade—the primary reason being Anthony. This is not insignificant news. For most of his 10-season career, Anthony has been regarded as an offensive dynamo—Charles Barkley, the ex-player, TNT analyst and basketball’s Simon Cowell, describes Anthony to me as “the best scorer in the NBA”—but there was the maddening suspicion that Anthony left potential on the table, that he lacked the crazy-eyed single-mindedness that separated the very good from the great. Melo was about Melo, too unengaged, perhaps ambivalent, the rap went.

Carmelo Anthony - WSJ Magazine - April 2013 (Cover) All Photos by: Terry Richardson

That suspicion is fading. When we meet just after the New Year, the Knicks are in first place in their division, and Anthony has just been named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. The long hype of Carmelo Anthony in New York City has coalesced into something real, and there’s a lightness to his mood.
“This is what I envisioned, coming to New York,” he says. “This was on my vision board. I’d sit back and be like, damn, I am going to run out there and be hitting game winners in the Garden in front of fans, getting them riled up. When they’re stomping on the floors, yelling ‘New York Knicks’—that’s a great feeling.”

We are sitting on plastic chairs in the empty Knicks practice facility in Tarrytown, New York. Practice is done. We look like a pair of ninth graders waiting out detention after gym class. Anthony is wearing an orange T-shirt and a pair of lightweight sweatpants cut at the calf—a version of basketball capris. He stretches his long legs across the floor.

“I always told friends around me, my family, my teammates, guys in the organization, this process was going to take two and a half to three years,” he says. “Just to get everything in order. Get your feet wet. Get used to it. A lot of things have become clearer to me about being in New York.”

View Melo’s Off the Court style here.

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