Carmelo Anthony calls push for social justice a ‘lifelong fight’
By Sopan Deb
There was a time in Carmelo Anthony’s nearly two-decade NBA career when his maturity was called into question. As recently as last summer, there was even uncertainty about whether Anthony, the aging 10-time All-Star, was employable as a professional basketball player and could accept being a part of a supporting cast.
But in November, Anthony signed with the Portland Trail Blazers, embraced a reduced role and began having his best season in years.
Now, his story is one of redemption. At 36, he is considered a valued elder statesman who is destined for the Basketball Hall of Fame. After spending much of his NBA tenure fending off questions about his commitment to winning, Anthony showed up noticeably slimmer last month for the league’s restart at Walt Disney World, and he has hit key baskets that have helped Portland remain in the hunt for the playoffs.
“I feel like we could have been in the finals last year if we had him,” Damian Lillard, Portland’s franchise star, told reporters recently, referring to Anthony.
Maybe this is the year. But even if it’s not, Anthony’s strong play has helped him maintain a platform for an endeavor for which he says he will never accept a reduced role: speaking out about social justice.
“Everything is shifting,” Anthony said in a phone interview. “We have to adapt to the change.”
His latest foray into activism comes in a partnership with Chris Paul, the All-Star Oklahoma City Thunder guard, and Dwyane Wade, the retired NBA star. The three helped create the Social Change Fund, a philanthropic effort to invest in organizations that support people of color, both from a policy perspective — such as advancing causes like criminal justice reform and expanded voting rights — and at a community level by targeting racial inequities in housing and education.
Anthony said the group came together because of the conversations about racism after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by the police in Minneapolis in May, setting off nationwide protests. Several NBA players participated. Anthony said he hoped this fund would be able to address inequality on the front end, short-circuiting the familiar conversations after the fact.
“Before, we would say things and we would follow through, then it would just die out until something else happened,” Anthony said. “And then something else happened. We keep being reactive as opposed to being proactive.”
He added, “We realize that we’re still in the same situation that we’ve been in for a very long time.”
Anthony, Paul and Wade contributed the initial funds for the project with the hope that their names could draw more investments. Goldman Sachs and Creative Artists Agency have signed on as seed funders, according to a news release.
“We all have our different lanes,” Anthony said. “Whether I’m on criminal justice reform, or I want to be on educational reform, we all have these different lanes. So we just want to build this whole actual fund so we could then attack those lanes.”
Anthony has been one of the more outspoken players in the NBA for several years. Last month, he guest-edited Slam, a basketball magazine, and appeared on the cover with his 13-year-old son, Kiyan, both in black hoodies. In a column, Anthony wrote, “Will you ever take your knee off our necks? Is it because I’m Black? Does that scare you?”
In 2016, Anthony, Wade, Paul and LeBron James took the stage at the ESPYs and began the show with a monologue decrying racism and police brutality. The year before, Anthony marched in Baltimore, where he grew up, to protest the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man who died in police custody.
Early in Anthony’s NBA career, he was criticized for appearing briefly in an anti-snitching DVD that was filmed in Baltimore and threatened potential witnesses to crimes. Soon after the video emerged, Anthony disavowed its content.
Now, Anthony is speaking out about police reform. He said he grew up in a community where everyone knew each other and some police officers had a strong relationship with the neighborhood. But others were unfamiliar, and that caused issues.
“I’ve dealt with it all. Have I ever experienced police brutality before? Yes,” Anthony said, adding: “Whether it was being pulled over, being racially profiled, or being in my neighborhood and being on my block and the police jumping out of their cars and snatching you up and throwing you on the sidewalk and make you sit there — I’ve experienced that.”
Asked if he supported the movement to defund the police, Anthony said he wanted to learn more.
“Have I thought about it? Yes. Have I come to a solution? No, I haven’t,” Anthony said. He added, “If we don’t understand the root of policies and police and where that stems from, then going out there and trying to speak on defunding the police would not make sense.”
He continued: “At the end of the day, do we need police? Yes, we need police, but we need them to do their job or we need them to do it the right way and we need to hold them accountable for that the same way we are held accountable for the things we do as well.”
Anthony has rarely spoken about President Donald Trump, but in June, after the National Guard and other law enforcement tear-gassed peaceful protesters outside the White House, he said in an Instagram post that the president had “declared war on the American people.”
But Anthony said that he was not interested in getting involved in the presidential campaign. A few other players have, such as James, who has publicly supported Joe Biden, and Paul, who signed a letter published this week calling on Biden to name a Black woman as his running mate.
“I’m not a politician, so I don’t want to get involved in politics,” Anthony said. “Where I will get involved in is my community and the future of my community and where my community is at right now.”
Issues motivate Anthony more than specific candidates, from his telling.
“I want what’s right for my people,” he said. “If you’re a Republican and it’s right for my people, then it is what it is. If you’re a Democrat and it’s right for my people, then it is what it is. I’m not in the business of picking a side just to pick a side.”
On this trajectory, Anthony’s legacy, which has been linked to immense talent but notable failures, may end up being about something else entirely. It’s unclear how much longer he will play in the NBA, but it seems like his days of making All-Star teams are behind him — though people have counted him out before. One way or another, Anthony said he would continue to use whatever microphone he has to talk about social justice.
“This conversation doesn’t just start and stop with me being a basketball player,” Anthony said. “This is a lifelong journey, a lifelong fight, a lifelong conversation I will continue to have. It’s not that I’ll be ‘focusing’ on that. I am that.”