The Lakers’ bid to sign Carmelo Anthony in free agency this past offseason was not their first. This time, however, it was successful thanks, in no small part to Anthony’s longtime friend LeBron James.
James and Anthony’s friendship can be traced back to February of 2002, when the two then-teenagers shared the court for the first time as two of the top high school basketball players in the U.S. when James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary’s high school faced off against Anthony’s Oak Hill Academy.
The rest, as they say, is history — Anthony led Syracuse to an NCAA championship the next year while James cemented his status as a generational basketball talent during his high school senior season, the two then went No. 3 and No. 1 overall, respectively, in the 2003 NBA draft. Both went on to become superstars and members of the famed “banana boat” friend group, along with now-Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul and the recently retired Dwyane Wade.
While James continues to make his case as one of the best all-around players in the NBA even in his late 30s, Anthony has recently had to reinvent himself as a role player to extend his career. Even still, when the Lakers expressed interest in signing him this past summer, Anthony needed to hear that interest from one specific person: James himself.
Though the two had long discussed teaming up in the NBA in years past, the conversation this time was much more serious, as Anthony told Spectrum Sportsnet during Lakers media day:
“I know our friendship, I know our brotherhood that we have. I know the connection that we have. And over the years we’ve kind of been dipping and dabbing at ‘oh let’s play together, let’s do this or let’s do that.’ But it wasn’t that.
“And at his point in time, where we both are in our careers, I think we both needed to hear that. I needed to hear ‘I need you. I want you. Let’s go.’ I really needed to hear that affirmation. Whereas before it was just ‘yo, come on, I think this would be cool, I think this would be dope, let’s make it happen.’ It was a different feeling, it was a different vibe at this point.”
James may have been more right than he realized at the time. Anthony’s refined skillset as a sweet-shooting stretch four over his past two seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers was already a great fit alongside the Lakers’ core trio of James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. But with Trevor Ariza out until at least December after ankle surgery, Anthony will have to play an even bigger role at the power forward position, especially with whatever he has left in the tank on the defensive end.
If the Lakers expect to shed their preseason issues and get off to a strong start once the games begin to count, they’ll really need to get by with more than a little help from one of LeBron’s oldest friends. In that case, it’s a good thing James told him exactly that this summer.