Carmelo Anthony at peace as Team USA's elder statesman

ByMarc Stein ESPN logo
Wednesday, August 10, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO -- The night began with Carmelo Anthony--while all 11 of his teammates were still on the floor finishing their pregame warm-ups -- sitting alone on the Team USA bench with his arms stretched widely and casually.

The night was winding down when Anthony leapt off that bench before anyone else in red, white and blue and headed straight for DeMarcus Cousins, determined to console Cousins, who had just fouled out.

"I'm not really a hugger," Melo confessed afterward.

But on this occasion?

"Sometimes you just gotta give [Cousins] a hug, man, and tell him everything's gonna be all right."

That's Anthony. He always believes it's going to work out.

Yes: Even with the Knicks.

He's a Hall of Fame optimist.

He's an uncertain hugger but definitely not a worrier. He's not going to sweat a slow start against Venezuela at the Olympics, he's not going to fret about the foul trouble Cousins and DeAndre Jordan endured against the Venezuelans and presume that even bigger problems on that front loom Wednesday night against Australia, and he's most certainly not going to listen to the naysayers who say he's a better player in FIBA competitions than the NBA.

"I haven't heard that one," Melo said.

And that's, of course, because he's not listening to the judgy pundits who've been batting that one around for the past five or six years.

He'd prefer to listen to peers such as Team USA point guard Kyrie Irving, who asserted the other day that an NBA championship and a gold medal are "pretty much the same."

"I believe so," Anthony said in support of Irving's proclamation, insisting he finds tremendous satisfaction in his status as the only four-time Olympian in U.S. men's basketball history ... with a record third gold medal now just six wins away.

"I believe so."

It obviously behooves Anthony to take that stance, with no championship in sight back home for Melo and his beloved New York Knickerbockers. Yet he seems so at peace these days in this incarnation as Team USA's elder statesman, in addition to his leading role in the world of athlete-driven social activism, that you tend to believe three gold medals will be enough for him if that's how it plays out.

If there's ultimately no NBA ring in his future.

"I enjoy it, I enjoy it," Anthony told ESPN's Hannah Storm in a SportsCenter interview that aired this week, explaining the pull of representing his country for a fourth time when three big names from what he calls "our brotherhood" -- LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade -- either passed on the chance to do the same or (in CP3's case) were sidelined by injury.

"I like it. I enjoy learning about different players' personalities, not just as basketball players, but as people. I feel like I'm that bridge, that gap, between the veterans and the young guys.

"Me and Draymond [Green] instantly clicked," Anthony said, "because it's like we just sit back and we just talk trash all day. ... This whole team, man. ... [On] the first day, we put together a group text, and it's like nonstop trash-talking. I know people wish they could see these group texts, these team chats."

On this night, folks had to settle for seeing Melo, as Team USA's older leader, stepping up in the second quarter when little else was working. The Americans finally stopped fouling Venezuela in that quarter and watched happily as Melo scored 10 of his 14 points in the period to restore some much-needed order.

"Really what changed this game was the steal by Melo," Team USA's Paul George said after finishing with a team-high 20 points. "Kyriecame down and kicked it out for a 3. That really ignited us on the bench. That ignited Melo, it ignited that group out there on the court. That was really the turn of events in this game."

Not that Anthony was terribly impressed with himself. He has now played in 25 of these Olympic basketball games, more than any other American man, and he just passed Michael Jordan to become the United States' third all-time leading scorer in the Olympics -- but predictably, he wasn't aware of the milestones until a reporter informed him postgame.

"I never even knew that," Anthony said.

Why would he?

Tuning out the noise and wanting what you've got, Sheryl Crow-style, is working well for a thirtysomething whose NBA legacy remains a matter of fierce debate but who's destined to go down as one of the most versatile and impactful players in the history of the international game.

"It's all basketball," Melo said. "It's all the game of basketball."

Perhaps we should be listening more to him.

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