Carmelo Anthony was stumped. "What's my title?" he laughed.
He has a point. To his fans, he's "Melo," plain and simple. The man who led Syracuse University to its only NCAA basketball championship. Now, a forward for the New York Knicks, one of the NBA's most prolific scorers and six-time NBA All-Star.
He's also the public face of a team trying to rebuild. For 40 years, the Knicks have suffered a title drought in their quest for the NBA Championship. Anthony has helped revive the team's chances, and he's bolstered the hopes of its most jaded fans. But standing between the Knicks and basketball history is the red-hot Miami Heat.
"You know, as a fan of basketball, just to watch and see them win 27 games in a row, that's quite unheard of in our time, in my time, Anthony told "Off The Cuff". But, he added, "they can be beat." He proved it last night - he tied his career high with 50 points, topping the Miami Heat with a 102-90 victory . The defending champs were without LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers, who were all sidelined by injuries.
Off-season, he trains in a boxing ring. "When it comes to boxing, it's a matter of putting myself in a different mentality," he said. "My focus level has to be at an all-time in a boxing gym. And that transcends to the basketball court."
Anthony lives life fully in the public eye. In addition to being a star player in the NBA, and one of the league's most popular players, in 2010 he appeared in a reality show which starred his wife, TV personality Lala Anthony. Even their wedding was televised. But the constant scrutiny has its downsides. Earlier this month, Ms. Anthony publicly refuted rumors that the couple had separated.
"It's kind of - you're in this box. " Anthony explained, "it's a transparent box where everybody sees what you're doing, everybody knows what you doing, especially with the way that the media is - online, digital, newspapers. But you've got to have fun doing what you do, and in the way you live. It's hard, but we deal with it. You know, I think the first part is understanding, and knowing, that that's your life. Once you get to that point, it's half the battle."
Anthony was born in Brooklyn, in 1984. His father died of cancer when he was two. When he was eight, his mother, Mary, moved the family to Baltimore, where she worked as a janitor. He has credited her with keeping him focused on his schoolwork and on sports; and away from the drugs and the violence that plagued the neighborhood he grew up in.
"All of the struggles that I had to through, living day to day and night to night, not knowing what to expect in the future. You know, not even looking towards the future," he said. "Not believing that your dreams would come true. That definitely molded me into the person that I am today. Having, a sort of a chip on your shoulder but, at the same time, remaining humble and genuine - knowing how I grew up."
When he made it big, the first thing he bought was a house for his mother.
"That was the first thing. That was self-explanatory for me to make sure I take care of her first," he said. "My whole family knows the things that we've been through, the struggles that we had to go through. That was a simple sign of appreciation, to get her from where we were living and to make her feel comfortable, and make her feel appreciated."
If he hadn't his out-sized talent, Anthony isn't sure what would have become of him. "To be honest with you, that's something that I don't- I can't - even think about," he said. "Even as a kid, everybody has these aspirations. But what's the likelihood of you actually reaching those goals? So, to sit here and try to make up something, where I would be, what I would be doing…who knows where I would be? I would not be living the dream, I'd be living reality."
In Baltimore, he had a successful high school basketball career, and was recruited by Syracuse University in 2002. He helped guide the school's Orangemen to their first NCAA tournament title in 2003. For Anthony, it was one and done. Still, he has remained close to the university. With the Orange now back in the final four for the first time since Anthony's title run, he said he doesn't regret his decision to leave.
"I know I can always go back and get that education. There's no time frame on that. As far as me leaving after my freshman year of college - the opportunity was at the right time for me. I had to take on that next step in my life, and figure out what I wanted to do in life. Yeah, education is always first. That's something that I teach my son," he said, referring to his six-year old. "And when he gets older, if he's blessed enough and talented enough to be in a situation that I was in, I would give him the same advice."
According to some reports, Anthony's annual salary is more than $14 million and his current contract with the New York Knicks is worth $80 million over 5 years. In addition, he earns an estimated $8 million annually from endorsements, including those for Nike and Degree deodorant.
So, is he enjoying the sweet smell of success? Anthony tucked his face under his arm and laughed, "Yeah, I smell good."