Nuggets' find seems for real

NBA: Having caught more than a glimpse of Carmelo Anthony's star power, Denver is learning the real value of his presence.

Pro Basketball

November 05, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

DENVER - Someday, this could be Carmelo Anthony's city.

It certainly won't be tomorrow, and it might not be by the end of this NBA season, but, at some point, Anthony may very well have this town eating from the palm of his hand.

It's not hard to figure why. Sure, Anthony possesses an abundance of talent that persuaded the Denver Nuggets in June to select the Baltimore native third overall in the NBA draft. And, yes, he comes to the scene at a time when the city - without hockey's Patrick Roy or the mythic John Elway - is without a singular sports hero.

The best reason, though, that Carmelo Anthony and this Rocky Mountain city have become such a good fit in the four-plus months since the Nuggets drafted him is that people just seem to like him and his million-watt smile.

And he just likes them, too.

"All the fans just want me to do well," Anthony said before a preseason game last month. "And not just me, but they want to see the entire Denver Nuggets team be successful. They want to see the Denver Nuggets like they were back in the day in '92 when [Dikembe] Mutombo and those guys were here."

Of course, as his rookie season begins, Anthony does have his sights set higher than being the symbol of Denver sports. Sooner or later, Anthony, who led Syracuse to its first national title in April, wants to be The Man.

Not just in Colorado and not just in the Rockies, but also throughout the NBA.

"I want that. Whenever you hear about NBA basketball, you hear my name," Anthony said. "That's how I want it to be. And not just on the court, but off the court, too."

For comparison's sake

Anthony, 19, will have competition for that title, and it will come, in the most obvious form, in the person of his friend LeBron James.

The two formed a friendship in their Amateur Athletic Union days, and have been painted in media circles as the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird of the hip-hop era - talented players destined to play out a rivalry on the big-time stage for at least a decade, provided their teams get better.

James is winning in the endorsement category, getting a $90 million Nike shoe contract, as well as his own shoe line. Anthony got a reported $20 million from Nike to be a part of the "Brand Jordan" team.

"Actually, LeBron has helped the market," said Calvin Andrews, Anthony's agent. "He's helped raise the market and bring more awareness to the young, hot NBA stars, which he and Carmelo are tabbed as the next two generation guys. LeBron's attention has actually helped Carmelo."

Yes, Anthony and James are friends, but there is an edge to their relationship, forged on two fronts. The first is that James, the high school phenom from Akron, Ohio, was taken first overall in the draft, two spots ahead of Anthony. The second is that Anthony cannot escape comparisons to James, no matter what he does or where he turns.

"I get tired of hearing it now," said Anthony, a 6-foot-8 forward who starred at Towson Catholic before leading Oak Hill (Va.) Academy to a No. 1 national high school ranking. "It's nothing against LeBron, but every time they mention my name, they mention his name. If they mention his name, they mention my name. That's going to happen, so I try to get used to it. But I'm tired of hearing it, and I know he's tired of hearing it."

Anthony will have to deal with it. The two of them will face off for the first time in their NBA careers tonight in Cleveland in a nationally televised game that would be largely ignored - seeing how it pits two teams that went 17-65 each last season - save for the Buddy Battle aspect.

It may be the brashness of youth, but Anthony seems to believe he can be an NBA giant.

Through four regular-season games, Anthony is off to a good start, averaging 13.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists, including an impressive 23 points Saturday night in a home victory over Sacramento.

"All he has to do is play against the league and get used to certain players," said former NBA veteran Adrian Dantley, now a Nuggets assistant coach who works with the frontcourt players on their post-up skills. "He definitely has talent. I always joke with him that as long as he doesn't shoot all those jump shots, he'll be a great talent in this league."

The Nuggets are doing their best to keep expectations of Anthony within reason.

"I do see definite improvement as he learns to play against some of the tough guys in this league," said Denver general manager Kiki Vandeweghe. "They are all kind of waiting for him. He's got a big reputation coming in. He's put up some numbers.

"Now, everybody's kind of laying in wait. You've got some very good defensive players and good offensive players and good athletes who are quite accomplished. That's the great part about this game is ... you have to prove yourself every night."

After a preseason game against the Indiana Pacers, Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik, who formerly coached at UMBC, paused at the podium and thought about what Anthony had done, both that night and in general.

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