The United States’ Carmelo Anthony is a basketball icon. Simply known as “Melo,” he is a three-time Olympic gold medalist, a ten-time NBA All-Star, and one of the outstanding scorers in NBA history who amassed more than 28,000 career points. As great as his pro career was, there is a particular and unique memory of him that is etched in basketball fans’ minds: USA Basketball Melo. Many of his performances on the international stage, donning the Team USA jersey and running with some of the other great players from his home country, are legendary. He would hit bucket after bucket with that sweet jump shot, power his way for rebounds, and simply, win.
It is thus fitting that, after earlier naming Argentina’s Luis Scola and Spain’s Pau Gasol as FIBA World Cup Global Ambassadors, FIBA just named Melo as the third one. More importantly for the Philippines, one of the hosts for the FIBA World Cup from August to September 2023, Melo’s designation as such coincided with the sixth and last FIBA World Cup Qualifying Window in which the Gilas Pilipinas team would play two games before its home crowd, versus Lebanon and Jordan, respectively. What a treat for Filipinos that Melo himself would be in town for that Window to meet the Philippine media, watch the game against Lebanon live at the Philippine Arena, and do what a FIBA Global Ambassador is supposed to do – talk about basketball and other stuff.
On February 24, 2023, a large group of media members gathered at the historic Smart Araneta Coliseum for food and fellowship, with their just dessert being the opportunity to see Melo and ask him some questions. Host Paolo del Rosario introduced Melo to those gathered, and the main attraction went up on stage to sit beside the actual Naismith Trophy, which the winner of the FIBA World Cup 2023 will take home in September. After some lively banter with the host, the floor opened up for questions from the media.
Questions propounded ranged from what Melo does when he is not playing basketball to how it felt to be in such a historic venue like Smart Araneta. And Melo gamely entertained each query, answering with explanations and taking time to elaborate.
When asked what being named as a Global Ambassador means to him, he waxed nostalgic as he recalled that he had played for USA Basketball since the early 2000s and that his international career has now come full circle being named as such. He mentioned that he wants to make an impact globally in the long-term, but was also excited to witness the passion of the Filipinos in the game against Lebanon that he would watch that very same day.
As for the FIBA World Cup, Melo conceded that the competition is really tough. “I do think that the FIBA World Cup is one of the biggest and toughest competitions out there…you really have to bring it…you’re playing for your country, with a different sense of pride.” He added, “When you’re playing for your country, there’s no such thing as individualism at all. You’re playing for something that’s much greater than yourself or one person. You’re playing not just for your team but for a whole country as well, and the people that is a part of that and supports that.”
He took special note of the caliber of talent of the players he played with and against in international competitions and mentioned that he is eager to see all the new talent and recognized that the gap between the USA and other countries with regard to basketball is closing. “You see the international players who are becoming the faces of our game in America, which is a testament to the game of basketball growing on a global scale,” he said.
As for his co-Global Ambassadors Scola and Gasol, Melo expressed relief, stating that he was glad he did not have to compete against them anymore, considering how badly those two and their teams wanted to defeat the USA. Instead, now they can all three represent the global game of basketball together. He said he was looking forward to listening to the fans now and helping expand the game of basketball all over the world.
As questions kept on coming for Melo, he reminisced about Kobe Bryant, whose picture hangs from the rafters of Smart Araneta, as well as the defeats he suffered in international basketball play early on in his career. He agreed that “puso”, or heart, is essential in basketball. “If you don’t have the heart, you can have the skill, you can have the talent, but if you don’t have the heart to go out there and put that talent to the test, then what’s the point of having the skill or the talent? I think everything starts with the heart.”
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One question that stood out had to do with Melo’s philosophy in life, perhaps a song lyric or a line from a book, and, within a split second, he responded, “When in doubt, stay mellow,” eliciting smiles from everyone. He explained, “For me, that’s the mantra. I laugh at it because it’s my name, but it really has so many different meanings to it. When you’re going through stuff, when you’re preparing for battle, before a gold medal game or a big moment, you have to find a space to center yourself, to relax and breathe, and mellow out…take a moment and sit still, and think. Stay mellow.”
After a few more bits of advice, the event ended, Melo hurried to the Philippine Arena to catch the Gilas Pilipinas-Lebanon game, and even walked onto the floor there while holding the Naismith Trophy, to the delight of the crowd. He might have enjoyed what he saw, as Gilas Pilipinas played inspired basketball to claim victory.
As the FIBA World Cup draws near, the Philippine Local Organizing Committee for the event continues to be busy preparing. Melo will probably be back when the time comes, to cheer on his Team USA and to continue his basketball diplomacy. As for the co-host nation Philippines and Gilas Pilipinas, it might be wise to heed Melo’s sound advice as it braces itself for the upcoming mega-event in the realm of basketball. Have no doubts. Stay mellow.