The New Yorker Interview
Carmelo Anthony Still Feels Like He’s Proving Himself
A conversation with the N.B.A. star about growing up, getting painted as the villain, and being needed.
September 12, 2021
In his new book, “Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope,” Anthony explains that his characteristic blasé comportment was honed carefully as a strategy for survival.Illustration by Tejumola Butler Adenuga; Source photographs from AP; Getty
For twenty years now, give or take, Carmelo Anthony has been the picture of ease on the basketball court. A typical Anthony possession goes something like this: he’s tossed the ball on the wing or somewhere just right of the foul line, and he makes one of a few moves—a flurry of jab steps and spins toward the baseline, where a shot opens up and floats in, a hop step backward for a three, or a quick stride to the rim. Almost regardless of the means, the end is usually a tick upward on the score; as of this writing, Anthony is the tenth-leading scorer in N.B.A. history. And, no matter how difficult the maneuver, Anthony tends to emerge from his scoring forays looking fresh and grinning widely, as if in on a joke that has revealed itself in smooth motion instead of words, and already winding up to do it all again. When he is criticized, it is often partly for this breeziness: his aura of good fun gets interpreted as a lack of intensity, the absence of a “killer instinct” that sports mythmaking demands.
That characteristic impression of unbothered contentedness makes it all the more startling to read Anthony’s new book, “Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope.” Out this month from Gallery Books, it is a frank accounting of the years before Anthony arrived in the N.B.A., as the third pick in the 2003 draft, selected by the Denver Nuggets. (The draft is the book’s final scene.) Readers follow the young Melo, from toddlerhood to late adolescence, through a life that was anything but easy. His father, Carmelo Iriarte, died, of cancer, when Anthony was two years old, and Anthony catalogues that loss, and many others, with a candor that seems to come from someone other than the happy scorer whose exploits we know so well. He sketches a network of family relationships—with his loving mother, with a stepfather who seemed to despise him, and with the older brothers and cousins who were father figures to him, and whose fates feel like signals of warning—that were buffeted by outside forces, including violence and drugs, first in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn and later on the streets and in the housing projects of Baltimore. He explains something that might change one’s idea of him for good: his blasé comportment was honed carefully as a strategy for survival.
Basketball, for Anthony, has prompted a series of relocations since he was a teen-ager. He left a Catholic school in the Baltimore suburbs to attend Oak Hill Academy, in Virginia, and then went to Syracuse University. He is about to play for his sixth N.B.A. franchise: after long stretches with the Denver Nuggets and the New York Knicks, and a shorter stay with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Anthony was abruptly released by his fourth team, the Houston Rockets, in 2018, and spent a brief period in the basketball wilderness before catching on with the Portland Trail Blazers. Of such moves, Anthony told me, “Everything outside of the basketball aspect is hard,” but he also called it “part of the job.” I spoke with him in August, as he was preparing to head to Los Angeles, to play for the Lakers, with LeBron James, a friend since his prep-school days. The pair, long linked by commentators and fans—and often set up, facilely, as foils—will try to win the N.B.A. championship that has eluded Anthony so far. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
In the book, you tell some pretty hard stories—about the relationship with your stepfather, and the losses that piled up across your life. Was it painful to dredge these stories up in this way? Were you nervous that you would offend somebody in your family?
Well, I don’t want to say “nervous,” but it was that type of feeling, because I’m telling the story from my perspective. So, a lot of times, I can miss something, or I can tell a story differently to what the actual story is. So I had to go back and talk to everybody—mom, brothers, family, and friends. I wanted this to be so authentic that I actually recommended to D. Watkins, my co-author, “Look, you got my story, I want you to go and talk to X, Y, and Z so they can tell you more. I want you to really get the authenticity out of these stories.”
And was there any time when you went back and the other person was, like, “Nah, it didn’t go down like that?”
When I was young, I did have some names mixed up, but I corrected it. I don’t want this to be something that somebody can look at and be, like, “Oh, he’s lying.” No, I’m not fabricating anything. It is what it is.
In the book, you write, “Athletes don’t really get the opportunity to enjoy a romantic educational experience, like spending hours debating controversial ideas and diving passionately into extra reading.” What you experienced was different from somebody who was just in school to learn. There’s been a lot going on with collegiate athletes and compensation, and I’m wondering if the experience you’ve had changes your perspective on what college kids are owed. I’m big on college students and athletes benefitting from what they bring to the table, to the university, so I’m glad to see the N.C.A.A. coming around with the new N.I.L. [name, image, and likeness policy] and all of that. I was a student athlete and I still had to be a student. You’re not getting anything, unless somebody gives it to you, but you’re not getting no money. You’ve got to figure out a way to survive every single day, especially if you don’t live on campus.
It wasn’t Melo the No. 1 player in high school; it was Melo the student. Because I’m new in Syracuse—this was all a new beginning for me. I didn’t know nobody. I’m there by myself. But going from Towson Catholic to Oak Hill to Syracuse in a two-and-a-half-year span, I was equipped for it. I wanted to be a regular kid who could talk to any- and everybody, and laugh and joke. I never looked at it as a business at that moment.
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Once you got to Syracuse, you wanted to take photography—you were into people like Gordon Parks. Are you still into photography?
To this day, I’m all about photography. I just love how the images speak to me. I love taking pictures. I love collecting pictures. Seeing something visually and being able to break it down and talk about what I did—I’m still into it.
Obviously, you were getting more and more recognized at that point, even getting famous—as a kid, which I can’t imagine. I wonder about the adults who were around you. Of course, you’ve got your mother, your brothers, people who you know care about you. And there are others—one of the most interesting people in your book is Robert Frazier, who goes by Bay. From when you were in middle school, he would look out for you, make sure you had a uniform, things like that. Later he became your business manager. How did you know as a kid which adults you could trust? It seems like such a dangerous area, as a kid with your talent—people look at you as an investment, and you’re just looking to see whom you can trust.
I mean, growing up in those environments, that’s an automatic instinct. You can smell it, you can sense when something is off. By default, you’re taught how to look, listen, and observe, whom to watch and whom not to watch. What is that movement? Why is he standing over there?
That’s survival tactics. Nobody teaches you that. You just learn that from being in those environments. So, instantly, I gravitated toward Bay. Bay was making sure I was in school, making sure I didn’t make the wrong decisions about what high school I wanted to go to and things like that. He knew everybody. He had a guy that he’d looked out for before me, but it didn’t pan out. So I knew he had that experience. And I was just looking for, like, that big brother. I talk about my cousin Luck—that’s what I was looking for. I was looking for that brotherhood, because my brothers wasn’t there at this time.
You had two big brothers, but, for different reasons, they weren’t around necessarily when you were growing up—especially when you moved to Baltimore and you’re starting to get recognized as a basketball player. And you have your cousin Luck with you; you guys would play together, and it seems as though that competition made you want to get better. When you were younger, was that really it—not thinking about the N.B.A. but just trying to be on the level of the people around you? What was the motivation?
Well, the motivation was to get out of my circumstance. I had a lot of sleepless nights thinking about that. Not thinking about basketball, or sports—in those environments, people would constantly harp on the fact that you will be one out of whatever number it is that make it. Your chances are rare. Find something else. I never looked at the N.B.A. as the outlet. I didn’t think it would happen. So I didn’t dream about it.
What does “making it out” mean? Get a scholarship to college, make it to the N.B.A.? Or is it just whatever it is you can do?
When guys talk about making it out, they mean making it out to a point where they don’t have to go back. For me, making it out was just, like, Man, I don’t want to live like this for the rest of my life. I’ll be dead or in jail if I keep running around here like this. That was my mind-set. So making it, to me, was getting a scholarship to go to college. That was it.
In the book, you have two ways of talking about the places that you’re from. And I know them well, because I’ve felt this, too, and so many of my friends have. On the one hand, you love the place, right? When you talk about New York, you describe people coming to your mom’s apartment, and having a meal, and coming up to the window and putting you on game a little bit, and telling you things about the neighborhood. Same thing in Baltimore—how much you love the people around Murphy Homes. You knew them, and they took care of you. But, at the same time, you knew that it was dangerous, and you had to make it out. How do you manage that in your head—having love for your place, for your environment, but also knowing that there’s something beyond it?
You don’t know it’s something beyond, because you’re so tied into that environment. You’re waking up every day, you’re doing the same thing, you’re eating the same thing, you’re around the same people every day. So you become comfortable, and complacent, with, I don’t ever want to see no other place. I feel very good on my block and in my neighborhood.
So I didn’t care about going to other cities, or other neighborhoods, because I knew I had everything within these four walls right here, and these four blocks right here in my own neighborhood. I didn’t see nothing wrong with it. I’m going with the flow, because we all are dealing with the same issues, so you rely on each other a lot. I relied on my neighborhood. I relied on my community. In New York, I relied on people in my projects. I didn’t know anything else. And that made me happy. I knew if I was going to school, after class, I was going back to, truly, my happy place.
One part of the book that really struck me was when you did not at all want to go to Oak Hill Academy, in Virginia. You were trying to hide so you wouldn’t have to get in the car! You basically had to be tricked into going there. And then, when you did, you would call your mom or your friends back home, saying, “Come get me.”
Basketball fans hear about Oak Hill because you, Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, and all these other players went there for a time. But people don’t necessarily realize that a lot of guys go there for one year, meet up with other All-Stars, and then leave. What was that environment like? Did you know its reputation back then?
I knew the reputation of it from a basketball standpoint—I mean, you hear about it. Oak Hill is a basketball powerhouse, and it’s been like that since the eighties. Having an opportunity to go there was special in that sense. On the other hand, it was, like, I’m not leaving my city. I’m not leaving my people to go down to the sticks. I’m not going down to Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. I don’t even know where that’s at.
Also, I was just becoming, like, the No. 1 player in the country at this point in time. So I’m, like, I want to be home. I want to ride this wave with my people here. That’s why I was so skeptical about going to Oak Hill. On top of that, people don’t know Oak Hill is a boarding school. It’s lights out at a certain time. It’s like Three Hots and a Cot with basketball.
So it’s taxing on you from a mental standpoint. You’re away from your family. You’re now here in the woods. You’ve got to meet new players and, oh, everybody’s on top of the top—so even though you’re on the same team, you’re still competing. Everybody’s trying to get a scholarship. The basketball part was fun, but you would see parents pull up to the campus and open the door and drop their kids off and just pull off. It was one of those types of environments. So, no, I didn’t want to be in that environment.
It seems like you learned some different lessons at Towson Catholic, the place you left to go to Oak Hill. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that was a really tough experience for you. One thing that’s surprising about it is how vindictive certain adults were toward you, maybe because they didn’t like that basketball was such a big part of the school. You write about a vice-principal who was on you from the beginning. I wonder whether being misperceived by people who are supposed to be in a position of authority is a lesson that you also took forward into your career in the N.B.A.
Without even knowing, it was testing me and preparing me for something. And I can say that now, but at the time I didn’t know that. Getting up at six-thirty in the morning, I gotta catch the light rails, the two buses—every day, hour and a half to school, an hour and a half back. Practice. That right there made me tougher. I got to school any way I could, whether it was a three-dollar cab or whether it was the light rail, the buses, whatever it was. I see somebody driving, I’m jumping in the car with him.
I don’t think it was so much about basketball that the vice-principal wasn’t rocking with it. I went there because of the basketball program and because of how good it was and has been, so they had guys before me in a similar situation. I think it was just that I was coming in there a product of my environment. Cornrows. You can’t wear boots? O.K., I’m going to toe the line and see what type of boots I can wear.
Yeah, so I was, like, Beef and Brocs, oh, I can wear these but I can’t wear Butters
? O.K., cool. I’m going to rock with these. I really wanted to wear Beef and Brocs anyway. So I think, seeing me, they were, like, Nah, this guy, he don’t belong here, first of all. You understand? So any little thing on top of that, with that premeditated notion, it was just piling up. I felt it.
They wanted you to be a certain way. You write about having to take out your cornrows. And then there’s another guy, whom you like, who is on the team. Darnell Hopkins.
Yeah, that’s my man. That’s one of my close friends to this day.
At the time, other people were trying to draw a contrast between you and him. It reminded me of the University of Michigan doc “The Fab Five,” with Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard and those guys, and about how they thought about Grant Hill. The media was trying to make him the good guy and them the bad guys. I feel like that’s happened to you, even when you got to the league, right? People tried to make you—
I’ve always been the villain. By default. I don’t know why. I think with my upbringing and my past and growing up where I grew up and people really knowing that story, that stuck with me. It was, like, the gift and the curse, because coming from that environment, and really, truly being from the essence of that, I got that street love, the hood love. I had that and I still do have that to this day. I will always have that. That’s the gift.
But not everybody understood that, and not everybody wanted to see that. The N.B.A. didn’t want to see that. The N.B.A. had a different agenda at that moment. The look and the feel of the N.B.A. was totally different. [Allen Iverson] was, like, the only person in the N.B.A. who was almost—I don’t want to say “anti-N.B.A.” But he was A.I. He did it his way.
So they didn’t want to see any more of that. Just my opinion. I come in and I fit that norm and they’re, like, “Oh, shit. O.K. We’ve got another one.” But, also, the media had to play up the story between myself and LeBron, both of us coming in. They had to figure out a way to make the story work. So I instantly became the villain. I’m a good villain. I embraced it. It wasn’t that I embraced being a villain, it was just, O.K., I know what it is. It’s good cop, bad cop, when it’s those people involved. It is what it is.
I always wondered, if, when A.I. got traded to Denver, and you guys were together, you talked about that—about both of you, in some ways, being that guy.
I mean, we already knew each other’s stories. I think that’s what made us connect. He always felt like, “Man, that’s me. I see myself in him.” When you make it out, there’s two options: jump shot or crack rock
. That’s a very true statement. But I think A.I. gravitated toward me because he’s seeing something real, he’s seeing something authentic. He’s seeing somebody that’s cut from the cloth that he comes from.
We had mutual friends in Baltimore, in Virginia, in D.C., Philly. We always had similar circles. And he was schooling me, too. He was teaching me and I was learning at the same time. I could have been, like, “Nah, I’m not receptive to that information: I am who I am.” But he came and took over that big-brother role—somebody that I can respect from all aspects of life. “Oh, shit, O.K. I can respect you.” We had a mutual respect, and I think that’s why our friendship, our relationship as teammates, as friends, we are who we are today.
In the book, you write, “I go from these extremes of not caring to trying to prove everybody wrong.” Was that your mechanism for dealing with all these things coming from outside? I’m thinking especially about the past few years, when you were released by Houston and then, for a while, you were trying to find another place in the N.B.A.
I was at Barclays for your game against the Nets that year, and I watched you score twenty-eight points and then, like, a little over a week later, they dropped you. Dude, I just saw Melo lead his team in scoring like a week ago! Do you remember the game I’m talking about?
Was there a moment of not caring and then a moment of trying to prove everybody wrong?
I always felt I had to prove myself over and over and over again, no matter what. If you saw me play ten times, I always felt like that eleventh time I still had to prove myself to you. It was always doubt or skepticism or something to say when it came to me. I can do the same thing somebody else did; the narrative with me would be so much crazier than it is about the next person. So I got over the question of “Why me?” I stopped asking that.
When I first got to the N.B.A., that was my No. 1 question. Why me? Why me? Why? Why? Why? And over the years, man, I stopped asking “Why me?,” and just being good and cool with who I am. I don’t change if I walk in a room with some kids, my friends, family, in a corporate office, in the room trying to get a billion dollars. I’m still going to be the same person, and people respect that. I think a lot of times that’s why I get the respect that I do from people today, because they know I’m a genuinely authentic, real person, and a caring person, too. I care about a lot of people. People know that.
During that time, after Houston, you had already reached that place—whatever happens happens. You weren’t angry about it.
It took me right back to what I know. My comfort zone. Let’s suppress that. Let’s put a Band-Aid over there. Let’s cover that. We are not about to whine over that, because I’ve been told that forever. I’m not crying over that. What are you crying for over that? Tomorrow is a new day. What are you crying for? You’d better not let me see you crying. That’s all that I used to hear.
So when things go bad, I’m not about to cry over it. It is what it is. Most people would be stressed out. Most people would be depressed about it. Most people would be trying to figure it out. Me, it was just, like, Man, I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me. And to some people that might come off as not caring, not giving a fuck. But for me it was, like, it don’t bother me. So if it don’t bother me, why is it bothering you? But not knowing that it does bother me—it just bothers me in different ways.
You write about this a lot. Whether it was your brothers or your cousins—because they knew that your environment was so tough—people would tell you, “Don’t cry about that.” Not because they thought it was bad to do so but because they knew it would make you a target, and that that’s not the way to survive where you were. But you also write about, inside, feeling what you now know was depression—after your stepdad died, and your cousin Luck died. You experienced these things that now we would talk about in the context of mental health. Have you dealt with that during the rest of your career—and have you learned new ways to manage that?
No, I’ve learned new ways to manage it by saying, “Fuck it.” Pardon my French. But that’s, like, my go-to. Like, all right, cool. Fuck it. On to the next. And I think that comes from having those similar feelings growing up and just then saying, “Forget it. On to the next.” Somebody got killed over there? All right, on to the next. Cool. Somebody was in a fight? Cool. Somebody did this, did that? Cool. It was always on to the next. And now it comes back full circle. I’m like that now, but from a different mind-set or a different perspective because I know how much those things could really affect a person mentally and emotionally.
But then you’re prey. You’re weak if somebody sees you crying. And it’s sad. I don’t want you to think I’m praising that. It’s very sad because I find myself telling my son that sometimes: “What you crying for, man?” And then thinking about, like, Damn, you know what? Cry. Let that shit out. Nobody told me it was cool to cry. Nobody told me it was cool to be emotional. Nobody told me it was cool to be vulnerable. Nobody never told me that. So I had to learn all these things as I got older. But, back then, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know I was going through depression. I knew I was sad. I knew I was, like, Man, what is this? Where am I at? I’m writing on the walls of the house. I don’t want to leave the room. I didn’t know those were signs of depression. Singing out loud and talking to yourself and sitting in the house. Anybody asks, “You good?” “Yeah, I’m good.” And just keep moving. You don’t know those are signs of depression.
One of the things that you would write on the walls was DMX lyrics. I didn’t know you were a DMX fan. I wondered how you felt when he passed.
I mean, I was sick, man. I was sick when he died. Me and Swizz Beatz
are like brothers. So I know how close those two are. We used to sit and talk about X. Also, as a young ’un, X was in Baltimore. We used to claim him in Baltimore. It was, like, Yeah, we ride with X. He’s speaking directly to me. This is who I’m listening to. This is my Bible.
A little later on in the book, you write about your brother Justice coming back into your life and putting you on to the Five Percent Nation—introducing you to the mathematics, all that stuff. I have family members who are Five Percenters, so that resonated with me. Does that stuff stay with you? Do you still think about those lessons that your brother put you on to?
I study my lessons every single day. I use it for me and my way of life and how I live and how I think and operate. I can’t convince nobody else to do that. I got to know myself, I got to have knowledge of myself in order to do anything. So I had to take the time to really do my studies and take a nosedive into my literature and my books and my studies.
What he instilled in me at that age, back then, my brother—now, it took me that long to be able to sit down with him and have a bill with him. Just sit down and just talk. We called it “burden sparring.” We sit there and we talk about it and we discuss it. If something ain’t aligned, then we discuss why. We get to the bottom of it. And then we move on. So those are the things that I keep with me to this day. I’m in my lessons every single day. Every chance I get, I take a glance at it, just reading. And, again, my lessons have been keeping me so sane over these past couple of years. I can tell you that.
That struck me as a really New York thing, the Five Percenters. When you were young, you had relatives in Baltimore, so you would visit there sometimes, but you were really rooted in New York. You write about how your mother was the best mother in all of Red Hook. Was it a special pressure coming back to play in New York, for Syracuse and then the Knicks?
It wasn’t no pressure. I never looked at it as pressure, because if anybody knows how to handle this, I know how to handle this. This is a part of me. This is my true DNA right here. I felt like I was coming back home.
I left New York at ten. I would always come back every summer. Spent holidays in New York. But as you start getting older, you start being away because you’re playing or you’re travelling—you can’t take more trips like that. Once I got to Baltimore, that’s what made me. I always tell people, I was born in Red Hook; I learned how to survive. Baltimore is what made me, and I was refined on the basketball court. That’s how I like to distinguish that.
Do you have favorite memories of playing for the Knicks?
Honestly, most people, if you ask fans or spectators or whatever, they would be, like, “Oh, he had a terrible time.” I had a hell of a time, even though it was ups and downs. But I had a great time here in New York because, for one, I embraced it. Because, at heart, I’m a New Yorker. I knew what the people wanted. I knew how people were perceiving me and what they wanted to see. I was ahead of the game when it came to that. And I think that’s why I really wanted to go to New York, because I’m, like, Yo, I might be the only one at this point that’s really built for this.
You’re a Knicks fan. It’s hard in New York. As an athlete, it’s very, very hard. My thing was, like, I ain’t saying nothing—let me just bring my game and do what I do, embrace this culture, define the culture, refine the culture, whatever. But I’m not about to get into all the excess stuff.
When you came, there was a lot of talk about you telling the Nuggets that you wanted to come, and the team trading you because you had expressed that. And now, of course, whether it’s Anthony Davis, James Harden, a lot of players have made trades happen this way. Do you feel like the conversation around that has changed, around a player trying to control his own destiny?
I think the players do have control now. Whether people want to hear that or not, the players have control, and they’ve taken back control. Some use it in the right way; some use it in the wrong way. That’s life. People don’t know this, but I didn’t demand the trade out of Denver. I went to Denver the June of that summer and sat down and talked to them about what’s the plan, and how are we going to figure this out, and what’s next. They were in a revamp stage. So it was just, like, if you all are going to revamp, I don’t want to start over. I don’t want to do that.
So that was more of the conversation. And then it was only a couple of teams that they were willing to trade me to. That’s why I was, like, Nah, you know what? Let me just pick a city where I want to go, because you guys is coming with Utah and these other places. I’m not going to get stuck like that. There’s three places that I would like to go. And let’s figure it out.
I gotta tell you, they still seem mad about it. George Karl is still talking about you and how you play years later. I mean, did you see his most recent tweet about you?
That man is miserable, man. I don’t get into it. I don’t read his comments. I think he’s irrelevant at this point in time. And I think some people in life just hate to see how people grow. I know what was going on with the Denver Nuggets and me and George Karl. And people who was there know. You’ve never heard nobody vouch for anything that man is saying.
It’s funny to me. I haven’t played for that man since 2010. I played for him when I was twenty-five years old. I’m thirty-seven years old. What are you talking about? A lot of those moments I forgot about. So that’s how I look at stuff. Some people are just miserable. Some people want attention. Whatever it is, good luck to him.
It does go back to what you were saying about—whether it’s that vice-principal or somebody else—when you get older, there’s a lot that you have to tune out if you’re going to live your whole life in public, as you have.
Oh, for sure. You got to learn that, though. But some people think it’s easy, and they just go with the flow and try to ignore a lot of things. But you have to really learn how to move like that.
In the same spirit, as a guy who’s now a veteran, and seeing things from a different vantage point, I wondered what you thought this year about the Olympics. You’re one of the most prominent guys to have had not only an N.B.A. career but a true Olympic career. What were you thinking watching those guys this summer—if you did watch?
Yeah, I watched a couple of games. I mean, honestly, I missed it. I do miss the Olympics. Because, like you said, I’ve been playing in the Olympics since 2004. I know what it takes to be an Olympian, what it takes to win gold medals. I also know what it feels like to lose as an American.
I miss it. But it was, like, there’s no way these guys are going to lose. We write people off so quick. We love comeback stories so much that we write you off just as quick. I don’t like that. But I enjoy watching. And I enjoyed my time with the U.S.A. team—those experiences, they don’t get better than that.
One of the funniest parts of your book is when you go through a growth spurt and your knees are hurting—it seems almost like basketball hijacked you, took over your whole life. Does it feel different, or even like a relief, to be an older player, and to be thinking about what else is out there?
I feel like I still got to prove myself. That’s it.
Really? You feel like there are people—
Absolutely. Until I’m actually done with the game of basketball, I will always feel like I have to prove myself. And it’s sad. It’s sad to think like that.
I won’t say it’s sad. I don’t want to say it’s unfair, either. But the fact that I’m going into my nineteenth year in the N.B.A. and still playing at a high level, and I still feel like I have to prove myself. To think about that—that’ll mess you up, if you allow it to.
That motivates me, though. Because I know what I can do. So it’s, like, O.K., I ain’t got no problem proving myself. Because I do it. This is what I do.
I mean, you’re No. 10 on the all-time N.B.A. scoring list. Does something amazing like that give you any satisfaction? Are there moments when you can sit back and appreciate everything that you’ve accomplished in this game?
It’s hard to appreciate things when you’re still in it. I think that’s why I work so hard. I train every single day. If I take one day off, two days off, I feel like I’m losing it. I’m losing my touch. It’s hard for me to sit back and decompress and take everything in because I’m still in it.
You mention in the book how long you’ve known certain guys in the league. Is it strange for you to now be about to play with LeBron, whom you met in high school and played against in a championship game the summer before your senior year? Is that a good side of this stuff—like, you’re on this journey with these other people?
Yes. I mean, when you think about it deeply like that, yeah. It’s, like, Damn, after all of these years, we’re finally about to do that. We talked about this forever, but the timing wasn’t right—it wasn’t right for me, it wasn’t right for him, situations, teams, whatever. So when we find the right time to do it, it’s, like, You don’t even have to pitch nothing. You just tell me, what’s the vision? You need me or you want me? Which one is it? And once we get to the bottom of that, and I understand the level of your commitment, when it comes to wanting me and needing me, then this time is right. And we both felt like this time is right.
And, again, we sit and talk. We get together—and we don’t even talk basketball a lot of times. And it’s, like, let’s take advantage of this right now. You’re a free agent. Let’s go win. Let’s try to do this. And it didn’t take that much convincing, because I knew this was our chance to do something special together.
You said, “Do you want me or need me?” Which one is more important to you: being wanted by a team or being needed by a team?
I think both are important. But when somebody says, “We need you. I need you,” that’s like—I don’t want to say a cry for help, but that’s the call. Like, Yo, come on, let’s do it. You can want something, but don’t need it. But if you need something, then you want it. You’re going to go get it. That’s how I look at that.
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