DENVER - After 10 months of turmoil in his basketball life and his personal life - including an unplanned film debut - Carmelo Anthony's fortunes had begun to slowly take a turn for the better. The image most around the country have of him, though, hasn't quite caught up.
This All-Star weekend is his chance to get it caught up, as he serves as unofficial host of the NBA's showcase event in his adopted hometown. Anthony hopes that the buffing of his profile will gleam all the way back in his real hometown of Baltimore.
"I can't let an opportunity like this go by, in my town," Anthony said in the Nuggets' locker room - his locker room - before last night's Rookie-Sophomore Challenge at Pepsi Center. "I'm gonna be here the rest of my career, and I want to be the best host I can be."
Anthony is off to a good start, having co-hosted a celebrity pool tournament with Alonzo Mourning at a downtown restaurant Thursday night. It was packed, it had a red carpet, it had Cedric the Entertainer as emcee, and TNT's studio show (Ernie, Kenny and Sir Charles) broadcast live from the site. Yesterday morning's papers splashed photos of 'Melo and his fiancee, MTV's La La Vasquez, holding court. It was the first of nightly events Anthony is fronting.
Practically every other minute of his spare time is devoted to appearances for the NBA and the team. On Thursday, he also presented a grant check from one of Michael Jordan's foundations to a Denver schoolteacher; the opening ceremony of the Jam Session at the convention center with commissioner David Stern and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper; and his treating of 200 local youngsters for a night at the session.
Yesterday, he hosted another educational initiative rewarding school kids for good grades. Today, he will sign autographs and read to children as part of the NBA's reading program, and tomorrow he will be a presenter at the Legends brunch sponsored by the league's Retired Players Association.
Besides making him more visible for the right reasons, all of this is therapeutic for Anthony, too. "It takes a load off my shoulders," he said, "and takes me back to a positive mindset."
It's not a mindset he's familiar with lately. Just the fact that he was playing last night rather than in tomorrow's All-Star Game did little for his mood. Add the fact that the man with whom he had been paired with as co-saviors of the league, LeBron James, was not only voted to start tomorrow, but urged to play last night and to participate in tonight's dunk contest to max out his exposure.
In basketball terms, James owns the spotlight this weekend, and about two-thirds of the questions asked of Anthony yesterday were a variation of, "Why have you fallen behind LeBron?"
"I know I could have been playing in this game if things had gone better," Anthony said. "But I'm positive. I'm going to be in this league a long time, and I'll be in that game some day."
Things probably could have gone worse for Anthony since last year's strong case for rookie of the year, but not much. His statistics are down from last season, he was blamed in some quarters for the Nuggets' underwhelming start and for the abrupt dismissal of coach Jeff Bzdelik, and in general he fell short of his responsibility as "the man" on an up-and-coming franchise.
The missteps since last summer have been re-hashed often, none more than the "Stop Snitching" DVD that, for all who haven't seen it know, is a Carmelo endorsement of witness-silencing. He apologized for it again yesterday and added that he "regret(s)" any role in it. He still wants to make it up to the Baltimore community in some way, and there are plans for a response to the DVD and its message. His family and friends have stuck by him, he said, and he appreciates that.
Still, all of this didn't necessarily drive him to step up as the public face of All-Star weekend; he had hoped to do it anyway because of his stature with the team. He now is benefiting from a rare dose of good timing: the Nuggets are creeping back into the playoff race under coach George Karl, Anthony is hearing less criticism from all corners about his play, and his fellow players, the league and the fans have responded to his embrace of his All-Star weekend role.
When he was introduced last night before the Rookie Game, he received the biggest ovation from the home crowd, bigger than the one for LeBron. Anthony finished with a game-high 31 points and was the game's MVP.
"Things are starting to quiet down now," Anthony said. "People are starting to talk about just me as a person and me as a basketball player."
With his weekend on center stage less than halfway through, Anthony sounded more relieved about the image he's rebuilding than anything.