Late 2003 was a particularly heady time to be a basketball-obsessed 24-year-old. Michael Jordan had left for good, but LeBron James stepped right in. Wade, Melo and Bosh seemed like the real deal, the Lakers were loaded, the Pistons were on the cusp — hell, even the Knicks brought Starbury home, a reasonably big deal back then.
I was unemployed at the time, fervently seeking my first job in sports with the wide-eyed idealism of a relatively recent college grad. I would eventually land a position in a sport other than basketball, but it was my nightly NBA viewing sessions that kept me going during an anxious period, as I identified with their glimpses of better things to come.
One of the things that always stuck with me from back then was the cover of the Sports Illustrated: Year in Sports issue. Never mind LeBron, SI bestowed the honor on fellow NBA rookie Carmelo Anthony, who sported the self-assured smile of someone who appeared to have the world at his fingertips.
Though King James was virtually certain to live up to his hype, Carmelo had pretty much done that already, leading Syracuse to a championship as a freshman. And while James’ otherworldly talent staked his claim as the nominal heir apparent to Jordan, it was Anthony who was hand-picked by MJ as a standard-bearer for his burgeoning eponymous brand.
“I was kind of like a kid in a candy store, to be honest with you,” Anthony said at last year’s M11 unveiling. “To sign with the Jordan Brand at 19 years old, that was an honor, that was a blessing, from that standpoint.”