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THE NEW YORK TIMES
Her Son Carmelo Anthony May Be A Star, But This Mom Intends To Stay A Mom
By WILLIAM C. RHODEN
April 7, 2003
New Orleans -A FEW years ago, the mother of a high-profile N.B.A. player told me that in nearly a decade of observing the culture of basketball, she could count on two hands the number of her counterparts who had retained their primary roles as parents and had not become their sons' employees.
When I related this story to Mary Anthony over lunch recently, she raised her eyebrows and shot me a look that said, "No way."
Her son Carmelo plays for Syracuse and has become one of this year's Final Four stars. She has watched his stock rise by such leaps and bounds that critics who proclaimed LeBron James the next basketball icon are now suggesting that Anthony will be the first pick of the N.B.A. draft. That is, if he turns pro this year.
She said that whenever he leaves Syracuse- this year, next year - their relationship will not be changed by wealth. She is a single parent, having raised four children on wages earned as a member of the maintenance staff at the University of Baltimore. She has cut corners and worked hard to send Carmelo to private high schools. She has shepherded him from diapers to his freshman year in college. She is understated and laid-back, but Mary Anthony makes it clear that she is the captain of this ship, not its crew.
"I don't want to be - I'm not going to be - an employee," she said. "I'm always going to be his mom." Mary Anthony was born in Bishopville, S.C., the second oldest of 12 children. She was a star basketball player in high school, though she began in the era of the dreaded halfcourt game aimed at not forcing girls to exert themselves. She played fullcourt her last two years. She also ran track.
She moved to New York when she was 18. She married at 21 and had three children - Carmelo is named after his father, who was born in Puerto Rico and who died when Carmelo was 2. At 41, when Carmelo was 8, she moved the family from New York to Maryland and put Carmelo in a private school. After his junior year at Towson Catholic, she allowed him to go to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.
Now his name is on the tip of every agent's tongue and she still can't believe it's happening. "This is like a dream; I never expected this to happen," she said. "I'm excited just being here and knowing that Carmelo's a part of it."
But for how long?
She encouraged him to go to Syracuse in the first place. "I really wanted him to go to get a feel of college life and to see how that education can take your farther. I told him: 'I understand your skills of basketball can take you a long way, but your education is important because you have something to fall back on. What are you falling back on?' I just gave him those options."
In a perfect world, Mary Anthony would like to see Carmelo stay another season, maybe two. She can see his development.
"Carmelo is really enjoying himself," she said. "The excitement of just being here, what he has done to get here is something that he loves to do. That's more exciting than anything else right now.
"He's not focused on money, the N.B.A., nothing. This is the only thing Carmelo is really focusing on right now."
I asked her if she thought she could persuade her son to stay for three years. She laughed: "I can't say that. He did what I said: one year. I said just start, if it was only for a year or two. Whatever he does after that, that's his choice."
When she was her son's age, she didn't always listen either.
"If I'd have listened a little closer then, certain circumstances would not have occurred in my life," she said. "One was to go to school, finish college, get a degree." She completed high school, came to New York and obtained a certificate from secretarial school. "I wish I would have done more. My mother only demanded that we finish high school; the other choice was ours. I don't regret not going to college. I just wish I'd gone farther."
As for trying to persuade her son to plan for a long-term college career, she understands that young people must make their own decisions.
"They have to look farther than today; they're not looking beyond that," she said. "But it's hard to tell them, 'Go back for three years, you got three years, go get that done.' It's not hard to say, but it's hard to get it accepted."
Some pro players do go back and complete their degrees. "Those are the ones who want more out of life," she said. "To be a leader, you have to be a leader for your child and for your family. They have to see something other than sports - they have to see business; they have to see prosperity, not just from the game you play. After the game, what's next?"
The tests are about to come, this year or next, when strangers bearing gifts throw mountains of money on the Anthony table. Through all the headiness, the distractions, you have a sense that Mary Anthony will never lose perspective of her role in this relationship. Mother, not employee.