By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 17, 2007
LAS VEGAS, Feb. 16 -- Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony is spending his All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas for the second year in a row. He came here as an escape last February, wanting to distance himself from the carousing in Houston and what he believed was an all-star snub. Having already painfully sat through the event when it was in Denver two years ago -- and watching 2003 draftmates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade make their all-star debuts -- Anthony had had enough of being an all-star spectator.
When Western Conference coaches initially refused to add the league's leading scorer to the list of reserves, Anthony made plans to go home to Baltimore and visit his mother, Mary. His representatives told him to hold those plans -- with injuries to Houston's Yao Ming and Utah's Carlos Boozer leaving two spots available -- but he wasn't optimistic that Commissioner David Stern was going to add him to the roster as an injury replacement after his role in a fight at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 16. "I didn't know," Anthony said. "I really didn't."
But as he sat at a round table, addressing reporters Friday afternoon at an all-star media event, Anthony could only smile as he reflected on how he finally made it in his fourth season. "It don't matter. I know it, everybody else knows that if it hadn't been for that incident, the way I got here would've been different," said Anthony, who was forced to serve a 15-game suspension for punching the New York Knicks' Mardy Collins. "I'm here now, I can't complain about how I'm here. To know that he did it, that David Stern put me in, it meant that he forgot about it. He put that situation behind him. We know how the league took a hit with the incident in Detroit with Indiana. We know how sensitive he was about that. So for him to put that behind him and forgive me, I really appreciate him for that."
Stern was extremely busy this month, having to select five players for the all-star team as Yao (right knee), Boozer (left fibula), Phoenix's Steve Nash (shoulder), Denver's Allen Iverson (ankle) and New Jersey's Jason Kidd (back) all were forced to back out. In their place, Stern added Anthony, Dallas's Josh Howard, Utah's Mehmet Okur, Seattle's Ray Allen and Atlanta's Joe Johnson. With the exception of Allen, the remaining players were making their all-star debuts.
Allen had no idea he would be selected for his seventh consecutive all-star game after he was passed over twice. He already had chartered a flight to Mexico, where he planned to take his family and play a little golf. But when he found out he made the team, Allen had no trouble ditching the vacation. "Every year, you want to be a part of it. This is where you want to be. You want to be part of the best," Allen said. "Any player that's not an all-star that's here wants to be in our shoes. I think the players that don't come are the ones that don't come because they don't want to think about being here. They just want to forget about it and just work harder to be here."
The five injury replacements are the most since 1997, when Chris Webber made his all-star debut as a member of the Washington Bullets, replacing Patrick Ewing, and a precocious, 20-year-old power forward named Kevin Garnett made the team just two years out of high school, replacing Clyde Drexler. "I was telling Melo not to get into the labels on how you get here. He'll have his patches and it won't say injury replacement," Garnett said. "As a vet, it was my duty to let him know that it's important to enjoy this time, no matter how you get here."
When Stern made Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas an all-star replacement for the injured Jermaine O'Neal last season, Arenas said he would seek vengeance on the coaches who overlooked him, dubbing himself the Eastern Conference assassin. Anthony said he would have a difficult time taking a similar path the second half of this season. "Every Western coach I come across says, 'I voted for you.' I really don't know who's hating. Every coach said, 'I voted for you, I voted for you.' Somebody lying, man."