For three decades we’ve covered many amazing basketball characters, but some stand above the rest—not only because of their on-court skills (though those are always relevant), but because of how they influenced and continue to influence basketball culture, and thus influenced SLAM. Meanwhile, SLAM has also changed those players’ lives in various ways, as we’ve documented their careers with classic covers, legendary photos, amazing stories, compelling videos and more.
We compiled a group of individuals (programming note: 30 entries, not 30 people total) who mean something special to SLAM and to our audience. Read the full list here and order your copy of SLAM 248, where this list was originally published, here.
Carmelo Anthony officially retired from the NBA in May 2023, after racking up 28,289 points, making six All-NBA teams and winning three Olympic Gold medals. While he spent his last few seasons barnstorming around the League, he’ll be remembered for his tenures with the Nuggets and Knicks, where he headlined some great teams that were eventually dispatched by greater competition. But I think as time goes on, we will remember Melo for more than just basketball.
Melo was in the same 2003 NBA Draft class as LeBron James, which would put most players in danger of being overshadowed. But he shined his own light and carved his own path, which took serious work on and off the court. On the morning of the 2003 Draft, I sat down to breakfast with Carmelo, right there in the lobby of the Westin Hotel in Times Square where the NBA housed the players. His agents wanted us to meet in advance of Melo taking over the SLAM Rookie Diary, which I would help him write each month. We shared an awkward meal together, Melo just weeks removed from winning the NCAA Tournament with Syracuse, and just hours away from the biggest moment of his life. I mostly just tried to stay out of his way that day.
But we were in constant contact throughout his rookie year—shout out tmail, IYKYK—and it was remarkable to see Melo gain confidence and start to grow into himself. He matured, became a father, had his own line of Jordans, and was starting to dabble in documentary production. At the time, you’ll remember, there was no real blueprint for an athlete looking to diversify their off-court interests. Michael Jordan was still building out Jordan Brand and yet to purchase the Hornets, and Carmelo and LeBron were feeling out similar lines of inquiry regarding what their business futures might look like.
In the summer of 2008, we reached out to Carmelo because it was time to put him on the cover of SLAM, his fourth cover since the 2003 Draft. Melo was entering his sixth season, having averaged 24.4 ppg over those first five campaigns (all winning seasons), including two All-Star appearances. Still, it was tough for the Nuggets to break through—things were so stacked that the 2007-08 Nuggets won 50 games and still finished eighth in the Western Conference.
Down to give us time for a cover shoot, Melo wanted to pitch us an idea: He wanted to be on the cover seated in a director’s chair. Nope, I quickly responded. Because if there was one thing the great Dennis Page taught all of us at SLAM, it was how to make a dope magazine cover. It was hard enough to do something compelling in that rectangular shape, and having someone sitting down really limited your options from a design standpoint. But Melo had legitimately thought it out. His life was changing. He felt like he was in control. He wanted to use one story to tell another story, and how better than by using a photo with him in a director’s chair?
A compromise was reached. We would get a director’s chair and take pictures with Carmelo in it, but for the cover image, we’d use whatever worked best. As it turned out, the director’s chair worked best, turning into one of the more memorable SLAM covers of all time.
We talked that day about his growth, and Melo noted, “It took me a while to figure out that I had everything in my own hands. It was hard to fathom that I went from a row house project building to a penthouse. It’s still hard to fathom that.”
Melo’s basketball story may have come to a graceful end, but he’s clearly not finished. He guest-edited SLAM’s Social Justice issue in 2020, addressing head-on many of the social issues in America then and now. The last few years, he’s done everything from owning a soccer team to acting on TV and in movies to launching a podcast to being profiled in Ad Week. And it don’t stop.
People often ask me who my favorite NBA players are, and the truth is, I don’t have favorite players so much as I have favorite people. While Carmelo Anthony will go down as a Hall of Fame basketball player, maybe the better story is how he’s also grown into a Hall of Fame person.
Photo via Getty Images.