Keeping it real
Carmelo Anthony. NBA star and Michael Jordan pitchman. He won a national title at Syracuse and came into the league with LeBron. They've been billed as the new Magic-Bird. The duo that would carry the league in the post-Jordan era and into the 21st century. But along the way, Carmelo stumbled – kind of.
From recent mainstream media reports, much criticism has been leveled at the man. Even politicians have gotten into the fray. It's been a free for all. Let’s bash the multimillionaire b-ball player. Let's criticize the young black male. And for what? What was all the uproar about? The media circus? For appearing in a homemade DVD entitled Stop Snitching.
Anthony said he didn't know a DVD was being made and that he didn't approve of its content. That should have been it. End of story. Case closed. But no, the vultures circled. Trying to drag his name through the mud. What is the fascination with trying to tear a man down in America? And why is the black man always made out to be a thug, a gangsta, a criminal? And when is it a crime to hang out with your homeboys, to go back to where you're from, to show some love to the home team?
West Baltimore is where Carmelo Anthony is from. He grew up in the troubled Murphy Homes project, which has since been torn down. To understand Carmelo – to judge Carmelo – you must understand where he is from.
"West Baltimore is the Manhattan to East Baltimore’s Brooklyn," says DJ, a B-More native straight out of Lafayette projects who is doing time in the feds now but spent his teenage years playing AAU ball for Cecil-Kirk. "You know who the big shots are on the Westside. Dudes are flashing money, big cars, guns. They about their business. Some of the biggest street names out of B-More like Little Melvin came out of West Baltimore."
The criminal mentality and culture that runs rampant among some segment of black youth thrives in West Baltimore. In places like Lexington Terrace and Franklin Town Road, success signifies diamond-encrusted watches, guns in waistbands, wads of cash and vintage Cadillac convertibles.
Like Choke, another B-More native in the feds says, "It's rough in West Baltimore. Life is about getting females and money there."
This world of drugs, violence and street culture is what Carmelo Anthony rose up out of. The man should be commended for resisting the temptations of the streets that so many young black men fall prey to. Because today there are more black men in prison than there are in college.
In the streets of drug and murder-torn West Baltimore, names like Itchy Man and Little Melvin inspire fear and respect. But this is not Carmelo's world. He has proved that. He is not a statistic in prison. He is not a street legend. He is not a thug or gangsta. He is an NBA star. A young man who has overcome tremendous odds to make it out of the ghetto and who has a lot going for him. But still West Baltimore is where he grew up and he keeps it real.
"He got to watch the company he be with," says Choke. "But they are his homies. He grew up with them."
Barely out of his teens and in the national spotlight, Carmelo is bound to have some growing pains. But cut homeboy some slack. He's been navigating a media minefield – refusing to go in a game, sulking in Athens, a bar fight, a bag of marijuana, an extortion threat against him and now a crazy set of DVDs. But he's going to be alright. He's balling in the NBA. He's got endorsement deals. He just got engaged. Commend him for what he's done. Don't rail against him because he is a young black man who came up from the gutter and now all of a sudden is supposed to conform to middle-class America's ideals of behavior.
"He's just being himself," DJ says "You can take the person out the hood but you can't take the hood out the person. And he ain't no sellout."
Even on his website, Carmelo says he was just back on his block chilling, showing love. He thought it was just his homeboy's home movie being filmed. He broke no law. All he did was go to his old stomping grounds. And he should be considered more of a hero and more of a man because he didn't forget where he came from.
Anthony appears for six minutes in the two-hour video and never says anything about violence or drugs. His superficial involvement and de facto endorsement is completely at odds with the life he has led. And like DJ says, "He keep his chain out. He goes back to the hood. Whitelock boys. They his crew. His dudes."
This whole media blowup is just another example of the age-old battle over how much athletes should be considered role models. Especially young ones not far removed from the environment they grew up in. The macho posturing seen in the DVD is just jesting common to today’s hip-hop culture which many NBA stars are a part of.
An assistant U.S. Attorney in Baltimore called the DVD "a public service announcement for criminals. Just say no to snitching."
Rep. Elijah Cummings grandstanded to the press, "What I would emphasize is that, if we have a situation where witnesses are afraid to come forth and if the NBA in any way has anything to do with that, then the NBA needs to try and correct that."
Even Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich jumped on the bandwagon pledging to resubmit a revised bill that would allow testimony in court without any witnesses.
All of this just because Carmelo made a cameo appearance on a bootleg DVD? You would think he was running the city’s criminal factions or something. But this grandstanding is just another example of politicians using celebrities’ fame as a vehicle for their own agendas.
It's like my man Choke says: "The media is some bullshit. They love to bring stuff out. Create controversy. That’s their job."
DJ elaborates: "Young, black basketball player who makes millions. Put him out there. The media thrives on negative stuff. They didn't even make it clear that Carmelo didn't do anything. The media can make you out to be a monster."
But for real, there's a back story here. Something that lies deeper. Something is not quite right on the streets of B-More and witness intimidation is a top legal concern. In the drug trade, taking care of business includes taking care of witnesses. And on the streets of Baltimore, they call Tyree "Black" Stewart a rat. A snitch. The DVD is aimed at this jailed drug kingpin and police informant.
The target audience for the DVD is B-More's street thugs. The guys they talk about in the video aren't ordinary citizens who alert police about crimes. They are hardcore criminals who flip the script when arrested.
"And Carmelo don't fuck with these people," DJ continues. "In the 80's, Black was one of the first young dudes getting money. He was pushing a SL500 Roll Bar Benz. He was a major player known for getting money, but Carmelo don't have nothing to do with these guys."
The profanity-laced production is one of eight such DVDs put out by Skinny Suge. According to Suge,"it's a video made for entertainment purposes and is basically a documentary about what’s happening on B-More's streets."
Carmelo's lent local star power to the us vs. them mentality pushed by street thugs. He provided celebrity appeal and exposure for the DVD.
"I know everyone in it," DJ says. "I knew about it before it came out. Big Vials, Slim Suge the producer, that’s my man. He's about 6-foot-7. He plays ball. He played streetball down at the Dome."
But back to Carmelo. He's not in the drug game. He's in the league and his posturing in the DVD is in jest just like when Anthony's friends say that Larry Brown, the Olympic coach will be lynched if he goes to B-More. No one really expects Anthony's friends to lynch Larry Brown. So why all the uproar?
The string of negative publicity that Carmelo has endured can only strengthen his character and resolve. Because what doesn't kill him can only make him stronger. Everybody knows talk is cheap. He's gone through it lately, but reports of his game regressing are premature. Sure he isn't LeBron. But who is? Carmelo is nice. A scoring small forward with a little flair to his game. A proven winner and leader. He will be fine and his homeboys in the feds and on the street got his back 100 percent.
Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti, federal prison number 18205-083, is housed at FCI Loretto. Previously he resided at FCI Fairton, FCI Fort Dix, FCI Beckley and FCI Manchester. He has been a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com since 2003
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