Los Angeles Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony, one of the most prolific players of all time, never dreamed of playing in the NBA. Growing up in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and the Murphy Homes in West Baltimore, the only thing that mattered was seeing the next day.
In Anthony’s new memoir, “When Tomorrows Aren’t Promised,” the 10-time All-Star opens up about his life before scoring titles, Olympic gold medals and the glory that comes with being an NBA great.
He takes you on his journey of moving from Brooklyn to Baltimore at the age of 8. Anthony had to grow up quickly, as violence, racism, and a troubled education system affected his childhood. Anthony said Baltimore had a different type of coldness where violence, pain, and murder were the city’s makeup. “People nicknamed this place Bodymore, Murdaland,” Anthony writes in his book.
Anthony went on to become a basketball star at Towson Catholic, which closed in 2009, and Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. Despite winning a national championship with Syracuse and getting drafted third overall by the Denver Nuggets in the 2003 NBA draft, he says he still looked over his shoulder, as the past intertwined with his daily life.
Anthony recently did an interview with The Baltimore Sun about his new book, growing up in Baltimore, receiving the inaugural Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award and why he thought an NBA career could never be a reality.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
New team and a book coming out, how are you feeling right now?
For [the Lakers], I feel excited about that just because of the opportunity that’s in front of us. But I’m more excited about the book at this very moment. People reading it and getting a better sense of my story.
What made you want to publish a memoir about your upbringing?
I didn’t want to. For the longest time everybody has been [telling] me, “You need to tell your story. Your story is crazy.” But I’m like, “Nah, that’s not for everybody,” because you have to bring a lot of people around and talk to a lot of people and try to figure it out. So, I got the green light from my family.
The time is now to tell this story. Where we are as a country, people need to know the situation they’re in, but also know that there’s an upside to it, too. I thought I could be kind of that voice and reason for things that are happening out here.
When people read this book, what should they expect?
I think they should expect honesty. It’s raw, honest, [and] very authentic. It’s touching. It’s very sentimental, and it’s coming directly from me. I’m not sugarcoating anything. I’m giving it to you as if I was in my living room, talking to family and friends about my upbringing. I’m allowing you to enter that world.
The book touches on your life in Baltimore. How did Baltimore shape you to be the man you are today?
If you are in those environments, you are going to grow up quickly, whether you want to or not. It shaped me for different lessons and walks of life that I’m able to experience now. Understanding it better, knowing how to move, knowing how to make certain decisions. That’s what it did for me.
I was reading an article back in 2006, and you said, every day, you had a look over your shoulder not knowing what to expect the next day or the day after. I was wondering, during the early stages of your NBA career, did you feel like you were still looking over your shoulder, even though your lifestyle and way of living changed?
Absolutely. People used to always be like, “Melo, you’re not in the hood no more, man.” To this day, I still move that way. I am still looking over [my shoulder]. I still circle the block four times. It’s just little things that stick with you from growing up in those environments.
I was reading excerpts, and you mentioned how the rookies in your draft class dreamed of that moment, but for you, not so much. The stuff that you saw in Baltimore, how does that change a child’s perception of life?
I think it makes you sharper, but it would stress you out, too. Again to the question that you asked me earlier, I get to the NBA, and I’m still thinking about the same thing. That can be stressful when you don’t have to move like that. I mean, you [have] to be careful with whatever you do, but I don’t have to move the way that I’m moving. Regardless of who I am, there’s still a small part of me that keeps that.
How did your upbringing allow you to handle the adversity that comes in playing in the NBA?
I mean, if you can handle that adversity, growing up in those environments, then the NBA is easy. It’s just on a different level. It’s coming at you differently. So you’re able to deal with the stresses, the nuances, and the BS that comes along with it. Learning how to move, when to move, what to say, and how to say it. All the things that you were taught, and learned by default growing up, stick with you. That’s why people say, you got street smarts. Some people are business smarts, book smarts, street smarts, and some people are both.
Another thing that stood out to me was you had some pretty dark anecdotes in the book. I saw where you talked about a story where a little girl’s body was found in a trash can. Throughout your writing process, how was it to relive those in those memories?
A lot of it was me wanting to be factual about a lot of things. I knew the stories, but I wanted to make sure that the stories were authentic. So I had to go back and do my research and put myself back at that time and find out the day, the year, and what was going on. There’s a lot of research that went into this book as well.
How often do you think about your time in Baltimore?
Every single day. I can’t escape it. My people are there, my friends are there. I like to go back and be in that and touch and feel that environment. I have to. It’s a must that I do that.
You say it’s a must. Why do you feel like you still have to touch that environment?
That’s my makeup. I mean, that’s who I am. And a little bit can be survivor’s remorse. You know, not wanting to feel like I’m too far away from those people I grew up with. I had to learn to get away from survivor’s remorse, and that helps me out a lot.
I want to ask if your younger self, the one that was squeegeeing car windows for money, knew you would end up as an NBA great. What would he think?
That’s b——-. I mean, it is what it is. That’s b——-. I never thought that. If I’m sitting back and listening to my younger self, say I’m going to be in the NBA, I would say that’s b——-. He ain’t making it to [the] NBA because that was told to me. That’s the only way I knew how to operate.
You received the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Award. Where does that rank among the awards you have collected throughout your career?
That’s one of the tops because I did it differently. That award came from something different from basketball. Because of that, it’s a lot more meaningful to receive that award. That award means that I’m putting in the work, I’m boots on the ground, I’m doing what I got to do to change lives and help people. That award sits at the top of any award that I’ve received.
What motivates you to use your platform to be an advocate for social justice, speaking against police brutality, especially last year?
The fact that I come from that, and still being tapped into that world, and people have in their world. Being able to talk to them, and listen and hear them out, and give them a voice. Being in a position that I’m in now, I can do something with that voice.
That’s why doing stuff like the Social Change Fund, giving back, being an activist, and speaking up on different issues. I can do that because I’m getting it firsthand. It ain’t like I’m far away and somebody is sending me that. I’m getting it firsthand. It makes it easy for me to go out there and go fight for those issues.
Anthony’s book, “When Tomorrow’s Aren’t Promised,” can be purchased here.