- LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony met in 2002 before a high school game and immediately bonded.
- James and Anthony have been linked since, though James’ success has dwarfed Anthony’s.
- James and Anthony finally teamed up on the Lakers this offseason, with Anthony calling it the ‘time’
A chance encounter in a hotel lobby in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 2002 produced long-lasting ramifications for the NBA world.
As St. Vincent-St. Mary and Oak Hill Academy checked in to their rooms, preparing for a face-off the next night, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony met each other. They were two of, if not the best high school basketball prospects in the country preparing to play in Trenton, New Jersey, the next night in a Prime Time Shootout match that sold over 11,000 tickets.
Anthony and James had heard of each other, but as Anthony told the “All The Smoke” podcast this summer, these were essentially the pre-internet days, when top prospects rarely met unless they played.
Rather than forming a bitter rivalry, James and Anthony immediately hit it off.
“[LeBron] come in the hotel, and we come in the hotel,” Anthony said on the “All The Smoke” podcast. “And he’s like, ‘Yo, you Melo?’ I’m like, yeah.
“And we sat on the steps for hours the night before the game — like, I don’t know nothing about you, you don’t know nothing about me. We sat there for hours, just kicking it, just talking. We clicked from that moment. We just felt like we had similar backgrounds: single-parent home, broken family, growing up in the hood. That was a similar story. So we connected off of that before basketball.”
The following night, Oak Hill Academy would beat St. Vincent-St. Mary behind 34 points and 11 rebounds from Anthony. James posted 36 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists.
The seeds were planted for two of the era’s defining players to remain connected in basketball and beyond for the next two decades. Two stars seen as counterparts, who once teased teaming up to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report in 2015, are now teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers, chasing a championship at different points in their careers.
As James told Beck in 2015: “We was like, ‘Oh, this is something that we believe probably could last for quite a while.'”
How James and Anthony’s careers diverged, then came back together
James and Anthony, of course, are two of the headliners of the famed 2003 draft class that also produced Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. James went No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers, while Anthony went third to the Denver Nuggets.
While both entered the NBA as immediate contributors and ready-made stars, James soon grew to become the face of the league. Their matchups, particularly early in their careers, were regularly primetime events.
From 2007-2018, James put together the resumé to be considered the greatest player of all time: 4 MVPs, 3 championships, 9 Finals appearances, 11 All-NBA First Team selections.
Anthony produced a Hall-of-Fame-worthy career in his own right, with 9 All-Star appearances, a scoring title, and four All-NBA team selections during that same span.
However, compared to his longtime friend, draft-classmate, and on-court rival, Anthony’s career was something of a disappointment — a player with all-world talents who didn’t always reach his potential and didn’t elevate his team to championship contention.
While James played in eight straight Finals from 2011-2018, Anthony played in six playoff series.
Anthony’s career went sideways following a trade from the New York Knicks to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017. He struggled on a star-studded Thunder roster, famously laughing off the notion of coming off the bench, and was traded the following season.
After playing just 10 games with the Rockets, then not appearing in a game from November 2018 to November 2019, Anthony revived his career with the Portland Trail Blazers the past two seasons. Anthony accepted a role off the bench and became an efficient scorer in limited minutes. His success with the Blazers helped restore his image.
“When [Anthony] finally signed in Portland, I said, look, he’s auditioning to be on a championship team,” former NBA player and ESPN analyst Richard Jefferson said on “The Jump” in August.
Jefferson added: “Now he’s like, ‘I’m willing to accept any role.’ Once you change your mind frame to ‘I’m willing to accept any role,’ now all of the sudden, the Lakers are like, ‘Well, maybe he can come and fit a role here.'”
Anthony and the Lakers had been connected ever since James joined L.A. in 2018, but a signing never came to fruition.
Finally, this summer, a re-loaded Lakers squad signed Anthony to a one-year veteran’s minimum contract. James and Anthony, arguably the two faces of the 2003 draft, finally united — one trying to win a fifth title and prove he’s still the best player in the NBA, the other chasing an elusive championship at the end of his career.
“Bron just came to me one time and said, ‘Yo, the time is now. I want you. We got to make this happen,'” Anthony told reporters in August, according to The New York Post’s Jenna Lemoncelli.
“I think it was really just more of an understanding. Like, ‘OK, the time is now. The time is now for both parties to merge, for both parties to agree to come together, and let’s put this thing together.'”