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Carmelo Anthony Q&A: ‘I’m taking the gloves off’

The Blazers forward discusses returning to basketball during the pandemic and how he’s using his platform to speak about social justice

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Carmelo Anthony is adapting well to life in the NBA bubble. The way the Portland Trail Blazers forward sees it, adapting is nothing new for him.

“Man, like I always say, we [Black people] adapt. We’ve been adapting our whole life,” Anthony told The Undefeated after practice this week. “As a Black man and a Black people, we’ve been adapting, so this ain’t nothing new for us to adapt to.”

In a Q&A session, Anthony discusses returning to basketball during the pandemic (the Blazers are fighting for the final playoff spot in the West), how he’s using his platform to speak about social justice and how much longer he wants to play in the NBA.

What have you done to use your platform for social justice in the last couple months that really means a lot to you?

My thing is just to make sure people feel comfortable with speaking on s— that they’re uncomfortable with and holding people accountable for not having those conversations, for not wanting to have those conversations. …

For me, I’m taking the gloves off. Whatever you want to talk about, let’s talk about it. That’s where I was at, which kind of translated to what I’m doing with my platform, having these conversations with people and bringing awareness to certain situations. Also, educating people. We haven’t been educated [on issues], and now we’re starting to want to be educated.

With the pandemic and racial issues in America right now, what is your view of being in the NBA bubble right now?

At first it was just like, ‘Man, I need some guaranteed answers.’ I had the same concern that everybody had. But then, once it started becoming just about basketball, like, ‘All right, cool. Let’s figure this out.’ But if we all don’t want to play, then let’s all not play. We are all going to play, then let’s play. Let’s not be in that gray area.

Once I got past that, it was just all basketball for me because I knew where I was. I knew where I was at physically, mentally. … And I knew what we were going to be in terms of Portland from a basketball standpoint. I was just like, ‘S—, let’s go.’

What made you feel safe coming to the bubble?

Ain’t nothing safe, but we can try to avoid things. We are doing the best that we can to avoid it. Again, the unknown is what was killing everybody. The unknown of, ‘What’s going to happen? What are we going to do? How are we going to be?’ Family was a part of it, but I don’t think that was a major, major part of it. I don’t think that was the major issue, but it’s still an issue, and it was a big enough issue where people started talking about it. So, you had that, you had food, all of the questions that you got.

Are you confident that over these next three months the players are going to take advantage of this platform for social justice?

Honestly, I think something will happen as far as guys using their voices, their platforms, whatever. As far as the group, I don’t know what that is. I honestly can’t give you an answer. I don’t know, as a collective, what everybody’s talking about. …

Everybody has their own individual lane with things that they’re into and things that they speak on. A topic that they want to discuss or want to tackle. So, I don’t think you’re going to see everybody just on this one kind of accord trying to figure this out. And I don’t want to try to figure this out together. If you’re not into the same thing I’m into, then it’s not going to be authentic in your message. I want to find a group of people I’m into to talk about things. And if you’re part of that group, cool. If you’re into voting, get that group together. If you’re into prison reform, get that group together.

What were your thoughts the first time you saw the video of George Floyd being murdered by a Minneapolis cop?

I was in Portland with the fam. I remember watching it, but I couldn’t finish the whole video. And my wife was like, ‘You got to watch it till the end.’ At that point, you hear stuff. It was just so much going on at that point. And I was like, ‘Man, another one? Something else happened? Damn, another one?’ Then that’s all I was hearing. But when I finally watched it, I had the same feeling that I had when I saw the Freddie Gray video. And that was close to home. I had that same feeling when I saw him, like, ‘Enough is enough. It’s time to go. It’s time to make a change. It’s time to be heard.’

What social justice message are you going to have on the back of your Blazers jersey?

I put two. It was either ‘Peace’ or ‘Freedom.’ I wish I could have done something else, put something else on there. But, I’m trying to put something that means something to me. That way I can be able to speak on why I got ‘Peace’ on the back of my jersey.

Why peace and freedom?

For freedom, in general, that’s the end-all, be-all. That’s what we want. That’s what we really want. We’ve been fighting for that for so many years. We’re still fighting for it. We will continue to fight for freedom. So, we got to continue preaching that message.

I was playing off of peace with the double zero [jersey number]. And the reason why I picked double zero is it being kind of an infinite number. The message for me would be, ‘We want infinite peace or we don’t want none at all.’ It’s all or nothing for us right now. We are going to find a way to get it, and we want infinite freedom, or nothing. And at the end of the day, we will keep fighting for that.

Do you wish your dad, Carmelo Iriarte, could see this? (Iriarte, who died of cancer when Melo was only 2, was a member of the Young Lords, who pushed for social justice in the 1960s and ’70s.)

I wish my dad could see this, because this was him. And I laugh and joke. My brother, we talked about it. He’s just like, ‘Yo, man, you’re just like your dad. You don’t even know that you’re doing the same thing that he was doing. You’re fighting a fight that he was fighting for so long for his freedom.’ I hear that. It’s a blessing for me.

How much do you know about your father’s social justice history and what he did?

I know everything now because, again, as I was trying to figure out and learn myself and learn my own history, now I start to learn who he was and where he’d come from, and how it happened and what happened, and what happened over here. …

He was a revolutionary. He fought for Puerto Rico as a whole. He fought for his people. He was a Young Lord. He was part of the Young Lords organization. For people that know what the Young Lords were, they were basically the Puerto Rican version of the Black Panthers. They were fighting they own fight in the midst of a bigger fight.

When did you become confident in using your platform?

I had to teach myself, for one. I had to get myself to a point where I’m able to talk about these different topics. I don’t like speaking on stuff that I don’t have any information on. And at first, going back to George Floyd, I had no information on that. All I saw was the video. So, for me to jump out there and say something right away, it was like, ‘Let me see what’s going on first.’ Once I started getting information, that I have people on the ground in Minnesota giving me the real information from the ground, then I’m like, ‘All right, cool. I got boots on the ground that’s giving me that information. Now I can speak on it from my point of view, which is somebody that’s there on the ground.’

When you think about when you guys went on stage at the 2016 ESPYS, what did that moment mean to you, and do you feel like it accomplished what you hoped for?

I know the moment that we had. I know the message that we put out there. …

It’s part of the reason why a lot of athletes today are taking the gloves off and nobody’s going to say that you can’t say this or you can’t say that. It was that moment that sparked it because we let athletes feel comfortable. Say what you want to say.

How much noise can the Blazers make in the playoff race?

We know the work that we are putting in. I’m sure everybody putting in the same work, but we got a different mindset because we are in a no-win situation. It’s like, nobody thinks we can do it.

Your teammates call you “Skinny Melo” after you came to Orlando in great shape. How do you feel?

I feel amazing. Absolutely.

This is your 16th NBA season and you’re 36 years old. Any idea how much longer you want to play?

S—, I don’t know. I just gotta get through this s— first.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.