Carmelo, your town needs you to take history lessons to heart

OTHER VOICES

December 28, 2004|By Paul McMullen

AN OPEN LETTER to Carmelo Anthony:

Hope you had a good Christmas and that the ankle's healing. You would prefer to be up and about, but year's end is always a good time to kick back and reflect, and you have a lot to look back on.

When we met at Syracuse University, you asked if the interview could be conducted in a team room. We chatted while you surfed CNN and ESPN, searching for news from Ohio high school officials weighing in on the eligibility of your good friend LeBron James. Something about payments on his Humvee.

You had yet to take over the Orangemen, let alone the 2003 NCAA tournament or an NBA team, or find yourself in a position in which you can influence millions. I'm with Charles Barkley when it comes to athletes being role models - they're not - but it wasn't a coincidence that the young man in my house broke out his No. 15 Denver Nuggets jersey the day Stop Snitching made the news.

The last thing you want is a lecture. How about a brief history lesson?

However innocent they may be, you have no idea how your links to the drug trade resonate in your hometown.

Today carries great sentiment for older Baltimoreans. On this day in 1958, the Colts - they didn't move to Indianapolis until 1984, two months before you were born - won a title game that went into overtime. Maybe you've seen the television retrospectives, interviewing NFL Hall of Famers. There would be one more bust of a Colt in Canton, except for the circumstances of Big Daddy Lipscomb's death.

Lipscomb was a revolutionary figure. He changed defensive line play, then became one of the first name athletes to die from drugs. He suffered a heroin overdose in 1963, in a rowhouse a few miles from where you were raised. There was little evidence he had been a user, and there was suspicion - how's this for irony? - that a police informant did him in.

Has Nuggets assistant coach Adrian Dantley mentioned any of his contemporaries, guys who were undone by heroin, cocaine and assorted junk?

Dantley played an epic prep game here in which his DeMatha team was taken down by Dunbar and Skip Wise, the greatest basketball prospect this town has ever produced.

Have you heard about the incredible crop of guards in the Atlantic Coast Conference? Kids your age are being compared to the group that graced the ACC 30 years ago this winter, when Wise matched jumpers with John Lucas and David Thompson. The careers of all were shortened by drugs, and Wise spent more time in prison than the pros.

If there was a local who approached Wise's talent in the 1970s, it was Quintin Dailey. He was the seventh player taken in the 1982 draft, but he was derailed by drug abuse. Dailey came along during the tail end of the cocaine epidemic that endangered the NBA, a public relations nightmare that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird made go away by the force of their play and personalities.

The last title for Bird and the Celtics came in 1986, when the franchise's good fortune dried up. The night after he was drafted by Boston, Len Bias snorted too much cocaine and dropped dead. Eventually, that hole in the Celtics' star system was filled by Reggie Lewis. He was still in his 20s when he died unexpectedly, and we may never learn the whole truth regarding claims that Lewis had used cocaine at some point.

Like you, Lewis grew up in Baltimore. So did Juan Dixon, who won admirers by overcoming his upbringing - both of his parents were heroin addicts who died of AIDS.

You fled the Athens Olympics in a huff, and it's a shame you didn't get the chance to meet Maurice Greene. When he was the World's Fastest Human, Greene acknowledged the kismet of that distinction. There might be a faster guy out there. He just never got the chance.

The nation's jail cells and cemeteries are pocked with men who had the potential to be All-Americans or lawyers or teachers. Baltimore's homicide toll is its highest in five years. Like you, most of the victims were young black men. Most worked in the drug trade and elicited no sympathy from a region that knows that world only from watching The Wire.

Dixon took offense when it was suggested he demonize members of his family, and you say you don't want to turn your back on your friends.

Just don't turn your back on the futures that are being endangered by drugs, and the memory of those who didn't play - or live - long enough.

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