Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant could help himself by following the Carmelo Anthony blueprint — Andscape
It was all love for former NBA star Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse University on Saturday night as he and his former teammates were honored during a 20th-year anniversary celebration of their 2003 NCAA national championship. Regardless of whether “Melo” returns to the NBA, this 10-time All-Star has a lot to celebrate on and off the court.
Before Anthony grew into the future Hall of Fame success story he is today, his NBA career was in jeopardy due to several questionable and dangerous incidents off the court. Ultimately, the renowned scoring forward stopped the nonsense, focused on basketball, and surrounded himself with a team of family, loved ones, teammates and honest advisers to develop a blueprint that allowed him to truly realize superstardom.
Perhaps Memphis Grizzlies All-Star Ja Morant can use this blueprint. Who better to mentor Morant than Anthony as a teammate if the Grizzlies want to be creative in helping their own star?
On the court, Morant is one of the NBA’s brightest young stars and most popular players. The high-flying guard is a two-time NBA All-Star who is also one of the league’s leading scorers. Kids cry in joy when he gives them his signed Nikes after a game. The 23-year-old has a signature Nike sneaker expected to be available to the public on April 1, recently became the face of Powerade in its first partnership in five years and has a tremendous social media following. The Dalzell, South Carolina, native went from lightly recruited out of high school to signing a five-year contract last year that could be worth as much as $231 million.
All this good news for Morant has come to an abrupt halt as drama off the court that could destroy his superstar career grows.
The Athletic reported that a person in Morant’s SUV pointed a laser from what was believed to be a gun at the Indiana Pacers team bus following a testy game in Memphis, Tennessee, on Jan. 29. Morant’s longtime friend Davonte Pack was banned from FedExForum afterward by the Grizzlies following an NBA investigation. Pack was seated courtside next to Morant’s father, Tee, during that Pacers game and stepped onto the floor during a verbal spat opposing players in the third quarter of the Grizzlies’ 112-100 win before being escorted out of the seating area by arena security.
On March 1, The Washington Post reported several allegations against the 2020 NBA Rookie of the Year. Morant allegedly punched a 17-year-old several times after a dispute following a pickup game at the NBA star’s home on July 26, 2022. It is also alleged that Morant showed a gun in his waistband to the teen, but a police report offered no such reference. The Washington Post also reported that Morant’s mother got into a dispute with a store employee at a mall and called her son, who showed up with “a group of as many as nine other people.”
Morant’s agent and lawyer strongly denied The Washington Post’s reporting and that their client acted in self-defense with the teenager.
“Any and every allegation involving a firearm has been fully investigated and could not be corroborated,” Morant’s agent, Jim Tanner, said in a statement. “This includes the NBA investigation last month, in which they found no evidence. The July 26 incident was purely self-defense. Again, after this was fully investigated by law enforcement, they came to the decision not to charge Ja with any crime. Any of the dozens of witnesses will confirm Ja acted in self-defense and that he did not have a firearm.
“Ja is a family-first man who loves giving back to his community. He’s an extremely talented athlete. It’s disturbing that unsubstantiated rumors and gossip are being put out by people motivated to tear Ja down and tarnish his reputation for their own financial gain.”
Said Morant’s lawyer S. Keenan Carter: “This did not happen, and no one claims that it did other than one irresponsible journalist. Her conduct was both unprofessional and reckless. Mr. Morant will defend his name, reputation, and seek legal recourse immediately.”
The support from Tanner and Carter didn’t age well, as Morant had an early morning incident with a gun March 4.
Morant began an Instagram Live session at 5:19 a.m. ET on March 4, several hours after the Grizzlies’ 113-97 road loss to the Denver Nuggets. Morant was making hand signals which could be perceived as gang signs and holding up a handgun at what appeared to be a strip club in Denver with strippers dancing in the background. Hours later, Morant closed his Instagram and Twitter accounts after the Instagram Live post went viral.
The Grizzlies initially announced Saturday that Morant will be away from the team for at least two games, and head coach Taylor Jenkins said Sunday saying there’s no definitive timeline for Morant’s return. The NBA announced it will be conducting a thorough investigation into Morant’s Instagram Live video. “Black Twitter” went wild with memes teasing Morant for what is perceived to be an NBA star acting like he’s about the “ ‘hood life” despite already making it and deemed as not being from the ‘hood.
Morant issued an apology, “taking full responsibility for my actions.”
“I’m sorry to my family, teammates, coaches, fans, partners, the city of Memphis and the entire Grizzlies organization for letting you down. I’m going to take some time away to get help and work on learning better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being,” Morant said in a statement.
Nike also released a statement on Saturday supporting Morant: “We appreciate Ja’s accountability and that he is taking the time to get the help he needs. We support his prioritization of his well-being.”
So where does Morant go from here?
It’s uncertain when Morant will be back playing for the Grizzlies, who entered Sunday in second place in the Western Conference standings, or if the Grizzlies or NBA will administer any other penalty to Morant. At some point, Morant will have to face the music with the media by taking tough questions.
Perhaps Morant can find a mentor who has faced similar damaging adversity and eventually turned it all around. Anthony certainly fits that mentor profile after pitfalls early in his NBA career.
Anthony was a heralded and popular third overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft out of Syracuse. He began his career with a healthy rivalry with fellow rookie LeBron James, who went on to defeat Anthony for the 2004 NBA Rookie of the Year award. The Nuggets considered adding LaPhonso Ellis, a veteran player, to mentor Anthony as a rookie.
Anthony later told Andscape that he wished he had a veteran mentor at the start of his career. As James and fellow Class of 2003 draftees Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh became All-Stars, Anthony was in the midst of regular turmoil off the court in his early NBA seasons.
The drama truly started when Anthony refused to go back into a USA Basketball game during the 2004 Athens Olympics after his teammates complained about his shot selection. Anthony was called a selfish player by head coach Larry Brown, who didn’t play him much. Meanwhile, James and Wade were stars on the disappointing USA team that won a bronze in Athens.
In September 2004, Anthony allegedly fought the former boyfriend, Sugar Ray, of his then-girlfriend La La Vazquez after Ray allegedly spat on her at a New York City nightclub. Three men unsuccessfully tried to extort Anthony for $3 million and were arrested over a videotape the extortionists alleged contained evidence of him fighting. In October 2004, Anthony was cited for marijuana possession of less than one ounce in a backpack while boarding the Nuggets team plane. Anthony said the marijuana belonged to a friend, and Denver prosecutors eventually dropped the charges.
In November 2004, Anthony appeared in an underground DVD video titled Stop Snitchin’ in his hometown of Baltimore, which warned of retaliation for police informants.
“At that moment, I really had to start taking basketball seriously because s— started happening,” Anthony said on the podcast Million Dollaz Worth of Game last year. “I had the weed charge. I had a DUI [in 2008]. I had the Stop Snitchin’. I had the argument with Larry Brown. That was the moment where it became the hero and the villain. ’Bron [James] became the hero, and I became the villain.
“Also, I became a loved villain. I had street love. Any ’hood, every ’hood, I embraced it. I didn’t know how to be the hero. I knew how to be the villain. That was the only thing I’ve ever known as I got older, four or five years in the league, and I realized, ‘This s— could be taken away.’ ”
On Dec. 16, 2004, Anthony made the wrong headlines again after punching then-New York Knicks guard Mardy Collins in a brawl between both teams late in a game at Madison Square Garden. Then-NBA commissioner David Stern suspended Anthony for 15 games, which was the most for anyone involved in the fight.
Shortly after, Stern gave Anthony a strong, frank lecture in his Manhattan office that helped change his falling trajectory.
“Everybody got like six or seven games. I go speak to him and say, ‘Why’d you do me like that?’ ” Anthony said on Million Dollaz Worth of Game. “[Stern said,] ‘Your rap sheet. Do you want to be in the streets, or do you want to be in the NBA? You’re f—ing with a corporation now. You’re going to leave that alone. I know who you with. I know where you live at. I know when you close your eyes. I know when you wake up. And I know what [your friends] are doing. Either tell them to stop or you have to cut them off.’
“And I’m like, ‘Damn.’ That’s when I knew the NBA was f—ing with the feds. He told me, ‘I got to make an example out of you. I know you. I know who is doing what.’ I get it. ‘If I am giving you $100 million, then I need to know everything.’ I didn’t understand that in that point in time. It took me to get older to say, ‘That makes sense.’ ”
Afterward, Anthony started leaning on a several people to help turn his life around.
His mother, Mary Anthony, and his then-wife, La La Anthony, became more involved and protective in his daily life. Friends in question moved out of his house. Then-Nuggets teammates Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, Bryon Russell and then-team liaison Dwayne Molyneaux kept a watchful eye on him. Longtime Baltimore friend Robert “Bay” Frazier attended and assisted Anthony daily as he still does in very stealthy fashion. Camby’s personal assistant, Marni Colbert, began taking care of Anthony’s daily needs in terms of bills, flights, etc. Agents Bill Duffy and Calvin Andrews were also closely involved with Anthony’s life changes until the NBA star ultimately changed agents. Anthony also hired Asani Swann to oversee his business development strategy impacting his brand and career.
On April 14, 2008, Anthony was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence after driving recklessly and being pulled over on Interstate 25 in Denver. He admitted to the mistake, apologized profusely. The focus was squarely on basketball and making money off of it afterward.
Anthony is still an NBA free agent. Regardless of whether he returns to the NBA, the expectation is that he will make the Hall of Fame after he retires. The 38-year-old ranks ninth all-time in NBA history with 28,289 points, is a six-time All-NBA selection, led the league in scoring during the 2012-13 season and made the NBA 75th anniversary team. The global ambassador for FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 overcame his forgettable first Olympic experience to win three Olympic gold medals.
Among Anthony’s off-court accomplishments in recent months, he has talked about the power in his braids on the CBS Sports show called CROWN, formed a private equity fund called Isos7 Growth Equity, developed a wine with Swann called VII(N) The Seventh Estate, debuted a new Nike shoe in collaboration with Tiffany & Co. and hosted an elite high school basketball tournament. Anthony has his own clothing brand called STAYME7OTM, and the 2020-21 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Award Champion brings awareness and support to Baltimore and his late father’s home of Puerto Rico. Anthony is also a proud father whose son, Kiyan, is a high school basketball star with a scholarship offer from Syracuse.
Anthony was in jeopardy of losing it all before surrounding himself with the right team, which has positioned him for success long after his basketball days end. Like Anthony in his early Denver days, Morant does not have a veteran player with a star résumé on the Grizzlies who can not only understand the level he is on but give him needed advice on and off the court.
If Morant reaches out to Anthony for mentoring or just follows his blueprint, the drama can ultimately become part of his past while the spotlight goes to the beauty of what he has done on and off the floor. Better yet, perhaps the Grizzlies should just sign Anthony and put his locker right next to Morant’s.