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After the U.S. men’s national basketball team routed Serbia on Sunday to win gold at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Team USA forward Carmelo Anthony followed in the footsteps of fellow NBA stars and national team icons Tony Parker of France and Manu Ginobili of Argentina. The 32-year-old New York Knicks All-Star announced during an emotional postgame interview that he plans to retire from competition for Team USA after winning the fourth Olympic medal, and the unprecedented-in-men’s-hoops third gold, of his illustrious international career.
Following a victory in which Team USA saved its best for last, playing its best two-way ball of the Olympic fortnight to blitz the overmatched Serbians from the middle of the first quarter on, Anthony spoke with NBC’s Ros Gold-Onwude, offering some perspective on an Olympic fortnight that might not have produced an American effort as impressive as ones in years past, but that was still plenty good enough to conclude in gold.
“I mean, we fought,” said Anthony, who finished with seven points, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal in 18 minutes in the U.S. victory on Sunday. “It wasn’t always pretty. We came together July 17 and we all committed for this one reason, right now. It was a special moment for me, you know what I mean?”
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Asked why this particular experience was so special for him, Anthony raised his eyebrows, smiled and disclosed.
“I know this is the end,” he replied. “This is it for me.”
Anthony had hedged a bit on that question during a recent interview with Michael Lee of The Vertical, saying in one breath that the prospect of suiting up for the U.S. in Tokyo in 2020 was “too far ahead for me to be thinking,” and in another that, if his buddy LeBron James really does want to return in four years’ time, “He can have it.” With the mission accomplished, though, and a third gold medal about to be draped around his neck – the most ever for any competitor in men’s Olympic basketball history – Anthony said he’d chosen to step away.
Once the words left his mouth, the emotion began to flow.
“It’s definitely … I committed to something,” he began before stepping away from the microphone, closing his eyes, shaking his head and looking up toward the ceiling of Carioca Arena I. As he took a moment to collect himself, the fans behind the camera in the stands began chanting, “MELO! MELO! MELO!” in recognition of the efforts of the man who has played more games, scored more points and grabbed more rebounds than any other player in U.S. men’s Olympic basketball history.
It’s an ending that few likely saw coming when a 20-year-old Anthony barely got off the bench for the dysfunctional U.S. squad that stumbled to bronze in Athens under Larry Brown. But it’s the one that Anthony earned with his commitment to the program, his often-unguardable work as a stretch power forward, catch-and-shoot 3-point ace and matchup nightmare over the course of his time in the red, white and blue, playing a major role in helping the U.S. return to the top of the international hoops mountain.
“I committed to this in ’04,” he said. “I’ve seen the worst and I’ve seen the best. And I stuck with it, and we stuck with it, and I’m here today, three gold medals later.
“I’m just – I’m excited for me, but also for the other guys who have never experienced anything like this,” he added. “Coach K, myself, Jerry Colangelo and everybody else who’s been a part of this situation, been a part of USAB for since I’ve been here.”
As he continued to speak about his love for the USA Basketball program and his appreciation for the role it’s played in his life, Anthony once again began to be overcome by emotion when considering the role he’s been able to play in this particular Olympic cycle – veteran, old head, mentor and, most importantly, leader.
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“I just want to say thank you for allowing me to be one of the leaders,” said Anthony, his voice cracking a bit as he said that last word. “Not on just our team, but of our country.”
And then, Anthony took up the mantle of leadership one more time, continuing his summer-long commitment to seeking opportunities to unify in a time often marked by division, violence, uncertainty, anger and sadness.
“Despite everything that’s going on in our country, we’ve got to be united,” Anthony said. “I stepped up to the challenge. This is what it’s about: representing our country on the biggest stage that you can be on. America, we’ll be great again. I believe that. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s one step at a time. I’m glad we represented in the fashion that we did.”
Few in the history of USA Basketball have represented as well, as proudly and in as distinguished a fashion as Carmelo Anthony. As exits go, it’s difficult to imagine a greater, more gracious or graceful dismount than winning one more gold, affirming the role that athletes and black men like him have to play in leading the nation at large, and showing a global audience just how much representing his nation has meant to him.