Growing, Learning, And Adapting With Carmelo Anthony And The Jordan Melo M12

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.”

Twelve years and 12 signature sneakers later, Carmelo has become something of a lightning rod, more likely to be picked apart for what he isn’t than feted for what he is. But that’s not to say Jordan didn’t know a superstar when he saw one. Anthony blossomed into an eight-time All-Star, a former scoring champion and one of the most recognizable and colorful athletes of his generation.

The more we get to know the Carmelo who resides on the other side of 30, it becomes more apparent that he’s probably been unfairly maligned. People who remembered the unseemly end to Linsanity waited for him to shun Latvian phenom Kristaps Porzingis; he instead definitively took him under his wing. On a fledgling Knicks team in need of leadership, Melo’s rebound and assist rates are the highest in his career.

And while Carmelo has become increasingly aware of his basketball mortality and potential legacy — this ESPN The Magazine profile was illuminating — he realizes that a big key to his future lies with never forgetting his past.

“I know how much a rec center in the inner city in Baltimore really means to these young kids,” Melo said last year while discussing the Carmelo Anthony Youth Center. “And a lot of them don’t have places to go after school in the summertime, so it’s leading to being on the streets, so I wanted to give back a rec center.

“It changed something. It’s not going to change everything, but it’s headed in the right direction. That’s Baltimore.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the first colorway of the new M12, which DIME was invited to wear test on Tuesday, is designed to pay tribute to his childhood recreation center, lovingly dubbed “The Dungeon.” Primarily black with a multicolored sole, the M12 (Jan. 2, $160) features graffiti-esque details to evoke various milestones in his past. The sole of the right sneaker features the decidedly Melo-esque quote, “No struggle, no progress,” while the left similarly reads, “When the grass is cut, the snakes will show.”

The M12 fits right in with Jordan’s other recent performance sneakers, as it utilizes the same Zoom-enhanced FlightSpeed cushioning system as the M11 and Blake Griffin’s Super.Fly 4. (Anthony has been effusive in his praise for FlightSpeed.) The upper is comprised of mesh to make the sneaker more lightweight than its predecessor, while the inside of the heel features four foam pads for a customized fit.

I played three pickup games in the M12, hanging in there on defense and scoring on a somewhat awkward leaner. To be honest, I slightly prefer the fit on the Super.Fly 4, but the Melos felt fine right out of the box. The M12’s are also built to last: I put them to the test during a rigorous steel club/mace workout at my gym, and they were sufficiently up to the task.

Ultimately, the defining characteristic of the sneaker – at least to me – is how it measures the distance to here. I still have that same job I landed during Carmelo’s rookie season, but when I get off the train now, my 4-month-old son is (impatiently) waiting for me. We don’t know where we’re going to end up when we set out, but it’s amazing to see what awaits us when we get there.

Likewise, Anthony will likely never reach the level of greatness that SI cover portended for him a dozen years ago, but nobody would argue he hasn’t done quite well for himself. He’s still got some miles left in the tank. And with 12 sneakers under his belt, Melo has every intention of seeing his connection to Jordan outlast whatever time he has left on the court.

“At the end of the day, basketball will be over for me in the next 10 years, so what do I have to look back to, and then beyond?” Anthony said last year. “I’m building that foundation of what I want to do when I’m done, what I want to be.

“When I’m done, I don’t want that to be the last shoe I design. I want that legacy to keep on going.”