Around seven years ago, Carmelo Anthony wanted to make a change. The basketball player was moving from Denver to New York, and he sought to revamp his image.
"It started with me wanting to do something different and take my career into my own hands," Anthony said. "[I wanted to] figure it out and not let somebody else figure it out for me. It took a while. Once I had the opportunity to come to New York it was kind of a clean slate for me."
Fast forward to today. The New York Knicks forward not only holds endorsements from the Jordan Brand, but he is also the owner of soccer club Puerto Rico FC. His philanthropic organization has built courts for kids and helped fund a practice facility at his alma matter, Syracuse University. He's the creative director of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" boys clothing line at . He's behind Melo7 Tech Partners, a tech firm established in 2013 that has backed companies including Lyft, DraftKings and SeatGeek.
Changing an image isn't an easy thing. To do so, Anthony and his team realized they would have to change how people perceived him.
"He prepared himself," said Robert "Bay" Frazier, Anthony's manager. "He tried to brand himself, tried to change the way he dressed. He cut his cornrows off. He wanted to go into the big city as a businessman. He wanted partnership/equity deals instead of sponsorship deals."
It was more than just appearances. In order to show the athlete's multifaceted interests outside of basketball, his management team and he decided to create the "This Is Melo" brand.
"Although he's an athlete, we really have to approach them like we would attack a corporate brand in creating a strategy," said Asani Swann, vice president of business development at Melo Enterprises. "We branded Melo as the authentic authority. Melo would only speak to things he was passionate about. He would only talk to things that he was authentic to. That was really the consistent messaging that we were going to continue throughout every aspect of his brand."
First and foremost, Anthony wants people to see him as a creative person with many different interests.
"I'm not your typical guy or athlete that just focuses on basketball," he said. "[My advice to others is] just think outside the box and do things outside your comfort zone."
The hub of the This Is Melo brand is a digital magazine, which launched in 2010. Unlike other athlete websites that just have stories about their personal pursuits, ThisIsMelo.com has stories from other writers about topics ranging from art exhibits in Chicago to a local garden turned restaurant in Brooklyn to VR experiences. The common thread: All are topics that interest Anthony.
He said the game has changed when it comes to creating a personal brand. While Anthony previously had a website that was just about himself, it doesn't say much about him as a person.
"There wasn't that much content in my life to fulfill a whole website," he said. "I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do a magazine type of website. We shined a light on up-and-coming artists or up-and-coming technology, books. From A – Z, we're showcasing that. But it's coming from everybody, not just me."
Swann said the strongly positioned This Is Melo brand has opened up many doors, including deals that might not be an obvious fit with his basketball career. For example, showcasing Anthony as a family man and emphasizing how important his philanthropic work is to him helped build the groundwork with Nickelodeon for the TMNT x Melo clothing line.
"It is a kids brand," she said. "They needed to be clear that the brand they were connecting to is safe, and we've created a safe place throughout these years."
It's not just being passionate about a topic: Anthony and his team do their research to make sure they can contribute to the project. For the TMNT line, Anthony tapped special help from his son Kiyan and his friends. He noticed that when children his son's age are passionate about something, they want everything with that brand. Since kids were unlikely to just buy one piece, he wanted a breadth of products.
He also tapped Kiyan's expertise with the first Melo7 investment, Cranium Hullabaloo. The touchscreen educational platform uses artificial intelligence to create interactive stories. When he saw that his son memorized all the tales and characters, he realized it was a great way to teach kids how to learn and listen.
"I think you have to educate yourself in what you're getting involved with," he said. "My advice, you shouldn't get into something if you don't know it like the back of your hand, if you don't know what's going on."
Making sure everything associated with him reflects his mindset is something Anthony strongly believes. He thinks too many athletes rely on other people to make business decisions for them. It's important to know what you personally want and make it shine, he emphasized. When you do, it can lead to great things.
"We started from the ground, and we built this [brand] up as up as a team," Anthony said. "I can see the end stage today years later that we've done a great job figuring out what we want this brand to be about. I feel like we're just getting started."