Before he took the court Oct. 17 in front of thousands of screaming fans at the Baltimore Arena, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony had an even better homecoming reception. He paid a surprise visit to the Carmelo Anthony Youth Development Center -- to the sheer delight of the kids in the afternoon program.
"The kids didn't know I was coming, so I got a chance to surprise them," Anthony said after his return to Baltimore for a preseason game between the Knicks and Washington Wizards. "Besides running out here and playing this game, that was the biggest part of it."
Before doing work on the court, Anthony did a little work refurbishing the rec center.
"I renovated the gym," Anthony said. "I painted the court. I painted the walls. I was once one of the kids that grew up here, so I can relate on a very different level. It was great feeling for me to come back here."
The Oct. 17 game was the first time Anthony has played in his hometown city as a professional, not counting a charity lockout game in 2011. His welcome-home reception was just as expected, loud and boisterous, and continued every time he touched the ball. Last season's NBA scoring champion, Anthony led all scorers with 22 points in 29 minutes on 8-of-17 shooting from the floor, with five rebounds and four assists during New York's 98-89 win against Washington.
"He played too many minutes," joked Knicks coach Mike Woodson.
Even so, Woodson said he didn't mind giving the hometown fans what they came to see.
"For him, I'm sure it's great to come back home," Woodson said. "I'm sure all of his family and friends came out tonight to see him. It's just a testament to him and the things that he's done in his career that prompts people to stay in his corner and support him. I think it was kind of nice."
Born in Brooklyn, Anthony moved to Baltimore at the age of 8. It didn't take long for him to develop the basketball skills that took him to Syracuse University, where he led his team to a national championship during his first -- and only -- collegiate season.
A six-time NBA All-Star, three-time member of Team USA and winner of three Olympic medals (two gold, one bronze), Anthony, better known as "Melo" to his fans, acknowledged that both New York and Baltimore fans like to claim him as their own. Anthony cleared up any confusion when addressing the media the day before the game.
"Brooklyn will always be in my heart," Anthony said, "but Baltimore is the city that raised me."
The third overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, Anthony, 29, began his career with the Denver Nuggets, where he played for seven seasons before being traded to the Knicks in February 2011. During Anthony's first year in New York, the Knicks made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2004, but suffered first-round exits in 2011 and 2012, followed by a second-round exit in 2013. He said he hoped the team would do better at the end of the 2013-14 season.
He said he had heard several projections for this season from NBA pundits who speculated that the Knicks would finish with a losing record and sneak into the playoffs. He's also courted some controversy by choosing rehab instead of surgery for a tear in his left shoulder, and by stating recently that he plans to explore free agency during the offseason.
But before worrying about the rigors of an 82-game regular season, how his shoulder will hold up or gloomy playoff predictions, Anthony took a moment to enjoy being back in Baltimore. And so did an announced, sold-out crowd of 12,367 fans, who cheered their native son from the opening tip to the closing seconds.
"It was a great feeling being able to come back here and have that connection," Anthony said. "To have that feeling once again with the community, with the people here, with the fans that's here. Baltimore made history again by bringing a basketball game back to the city."