Friday, March 29, 2013
The other ring on Carmelo's mind
By Jared Zwerling
He may never win any belts, but Carmelo Anthony takes his pugilism seriously.
Now in his 10th year in the NBA, Carmelo Anthony is still searching for that elusive first championship ring. Even with his team leading the Atlantic Division this season, the New York Knicks -- and everyone else for that matter -- will have to go through the defending champs, the Miami Heat.
But on Thursday afternoon in New York City, Anthony experienced what it feels like to be on the summit of the basketball world, enjoying his second favorite ring.
With the Knicks riding a six-game winning streak -- the longest in the league -- Anthony was atop the Madison Square Garden marquee overlooking the entrance to the world's most famous arena and all of his fans down Seventh Avenue between 31st and 33rd Streets. Wearing a black sweatsuit, Melo was in a pop-up boxing ring sparring with his trainer, "Hollywood Hino" Ehikhamenor, helping Degree Men launch its new DO:MORE campaign by showing off his love for the sport.
Anthony, a longtime boxing fan, didn't get serious about it as a core training method until his wife, La La, introduced him to Ehikhamenor, a former pro boxer who now consults with celebrities, including Kelly Rowland, Angela Simmons, Tony Yayo and Curtis Martin. At first, Melo took up boxing simply to stay in shape, but then he started to intensify his involvement because he realized how much it developed different facets of his hoops game.
"Melo is a consummate professional," Ehikhamenor told ESPN Playbook. "He pushes himself hard and seeks perfection. Boxing is a challenge for everyone; it's a tough sport that requires mental focus and discipline. Melo approaches boxing with a desire to achieve, learn and improve, but most importantly, he has fun with it."
Anthony ramps up his boxing workouts in the offseason at the Trinity Boxing Club in NYC, and a typical routine includes (in this order): a warm-up with jump rope; shadow boxing to fine-tune eye-hand coordination; speed, double-end and heavy-bag punching to enhance performance under stress; work in the ring using focus mitts; additional boxing drills; and finally, conditioning. Ehikhamenor always makes sure that Melo maintains proper form and technique even while he's fatigued, a philosophy designed to carry over to clutch moments on the court.
"I don't necessarily see him competing in the Golden Gloves or the Olympics in the near future," Ehikhamenor said, "but I do see him working to sharpen his skills, perhaps such that he can go toe-to-toe with some of the best boxers in the game out there if he wanted to. I think he sees it more as the ultimate challenge, recognizes how it helps his game on the court and he just seeks to get better overall."
After his session Thursday, Anthony spoke with ESPN Playbook about his boxing upbringing, its training benefits, how it's helped him transition to power forward this season and much more.
Just how cool is this?
I mean, you can't top this. I don't think anybody could top this, man, being on top of the Garden, being the only person in the boxing ring out here on the marquee. You can't top that.
You had an eye-popping launch event for your Jordan Brand M8 sneaker in 2011, and last year Madame Tussauds unveiled your very own wax figure. So you've gotten a chance to be a part of some pretty cool stuff in NYC. Where does this one rank?
Believe it or not, this might be at the top. That wax figure was a statement here in New York, but to have your own boxing ring on top of the marquee, it doesn't get better than that.
I know in the past you've tried different physical and medical training, such as yoga and acupuncture. How did boxing come into play?
I'm a big boxing fan. I've been boxing since I was a little kid and just fell in love with it. I was always intrigued at the conditioning that a boxer has to get in, in order to fight for 48 minutes. It's crazy to even fathom that, so I always wanted to have that experience getting in the ring. So I had the chance to experience about six, seven years ago, how a three-minute round, how long that is. You actually have to do it to understand how hard it is [laughs].
Have you been able to increase the number of rounds since then?
When I first did it, it was just increments of one round, two rounds, three rounds and then eventually, man, it was six, seven rounds. So I'm trying to get to hopefully a 12-round workout.
Carmelo Anthony attributes a lot of his basketball toughness to boxing.
You mentioned before your boxing infatuation as a kid. Who inspired you at the time?
At that point in time, I was always a big Mike Tyson fan. It was always about the heavyweights. Heavyweights were in back then. As I started getting older, man, I just really started learning more about the sport. I fell in love with Muhammad Ali. He's the best boxer, the best person. That's my role model.
Have you ever met him?
I met him a couple of times. I've met a lot of people in my life here in the U.S., around the world, but that was the one person that I was like, "Damn, that's Muhammad Ali!" I felt like a little kid that day.
Are there any pros nowadays you'd love to spar with?
Those guys do this as a living. Just like they won't come step into my world of basketball, I would never try to disrespect them. The only reason I'm doing this is because I respect how hard it actually is.
So what's your schedule like with boxing?
I do more of it in the offseason. Once the basketball season is over, I take some time off just to let my body heal on its own, and that's when I get back into the boxing.
You're obviously a great shooter, but has boxing helped you at all improve your eye-hand coordination?
Absolutely. A lot of eye-hand coordination, a lot of quickness, so that kind of helps me with my shot and with things that I'm able to do out there on the court.
This season, you've moved to power forward, where play is more physical on both ends of the court. You're also posting up more. Has the toughness and aggressiveness from boxing made your basketball transition easier?
Absolutely. I mean, with the whole boxing thing, I actually bumped my boxing workout up [last] offseason because I kind of had a feeling. Me and my trainer talked about that. It was just a matter of taking what I was able to do in the boxing gym and really incorporate that into basketball, as far as extreme focus and going through the craziest workouts that you could possibly go through -- from running on the West Side [of NYC], running up and down the streets of New York. People don't really understand that until you actually see me on my bike and I'm riding from Battery Park to the GW [George Washington Bridge]. It's just crazy workouts that really help me out.
Kenyon Martin has been playing well for you guys at starting center in place of the injured Tyson Chandler. Have you thought moving back to your longtime small forward position if coach Mike Woodson chooses to play Martin alongside Chandler?
At this point, it really doesn't even matter. Last week, since I've been back, I caught myself playing at the 5. At this point, it really doesn't matter.
I was just wondering, do you ever have moments after a game -- perhaps a loss and you're frustrated -- when you want to just punch a boxing bag?
Not right after the game, but there's been a lot of days this season when you play and then you have a couple days in between [when] I definitely went to the gym to get some steam out -- just do something to try to get my mind off of that basketball moment. I go box and then come back into that world.
Overall, your team is playing great right now, winners of six straight. What's working right now?
Guys are getting healthy once again, guys are starting to get their confidence back. We realize that it's a long season, we're going to hit bumps in the road, there are going to be hurdles in the road. It's just a matter of overcoming that and getting back to playing how we used to play.
Looking ahead, anything next for you off the court beyond more boxing?
I don't know. I think I'm going to just stick with the boxing right now.