The recent media attention given to Puerto Rico’s national basketball representation did not stop after the celebrated announcement made by the island’s basketball federation regarding the hiring of Rick Pitino as the new head coach for the men’s team. The need for more media basketball discussion was the perfect excuse to start a new rumor that immediately caught the attention of different Puerto Rican sports analysis forums. The “ghost” of Carmelo Anthony was revived and inserted into new debates led by sports journalists and loyal basketball fans in Puerto Rico. The Denver Nuggets and Team USA star was once again interested by the island’s basketball program.
Carmelo Anthony was born as the son of a Puerto Rican man and an American woman. His relationship to the island through his dad qualifies him to represent this Caribbean country on any international sports events. Before the 2004 Summer Olympics, former General Manager for Puerto Rico’s national basketball team, Salvador Vilella tried to persuade him to play for his biological dad’s nation. Anthony rejected the invitation and chose to play for Team USA where he joined basketball veterans such as Allen Iverson and rising stars like Lebron James. His team lost the 2004 Summer Olympics opening game against Puerto Rico, but eventually won the bronze medal on that same prestigious international tournament. While most sports media today comment about a possible NBA mid-season team trade for Carmelo Anthony, some Puerto Rican basketball executives and analysts insist on the player’s availability to represent the island on the upcoming FIBA-Americas Olympic qualifying tournament to be held in Argentina this summer.
What was first described as a rumor by commentators from the most popular Puerto Rican sports show on broadcast radio later became cover page material for those who frame the news on different major written journalism sources. The newspaper with the biggest circulation on the island dedicated the top right corner of their cover page to publish a headline where the comment that Anthony “now wants to be a Boricua” was presented as fact. Inside the sports sections of several printed and cyber newspapers, the evidence for the information was only based on a recent communication established by the Puerto Rican basketball federation (FBPR, for its acronym in Spanish) and Anthony’s agent. One week after the big announcement, we have not heard any declaration from Carmelo Anthony in relation to this possibility.
Without entering into the difficulties that may be presented by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and USA Basketball, the two organizations with the power to provide the decisive approval for Carmelo’s change of “sport citizenship”, we cannot forget that the most important determinant for these cases is an athlete’s honest desire to represent a nation. We just hope this is not another attempt made by the FBPR to “beg” for the participation of players who have never felt any sense of belonging towards Puerto Rico, its cultural imaginaries, and its national sports institutions. For those who treasure the island’s sports sovereignty, Anthony’s “identification” with the island should not be simplified through the coverage of his sympathy toward Puerto Rico by means of a gesture where he promoted his Foundation by financing a new basketball court for the marginalized community of “La Perla” in San Juan. Like any other country in the world, representing the Caribbean nation of Puerto Rico should entail a genuine compromise to serve its people with pride and responsibility.
If Mr. Carmelo Anthony has an honest interest to accept the responsibility of embracing his Boricua and Latin American roots, along with the constant triumphs and struggles faced by those communities, our national basketball program and its directors could then start to consider themselves as lucky people. We just hope Anthony realizes that wearing the Puerto Rican colors on sports contests is a privileged wanted by many, but only accomplished by a few dedicated athletes. It’s not about having a tattoo with the Puerto Rican flag to perform “minority coolness” in the United States. This is about accepting the challenge of representing a whole national group with dignity and love. If Anthony really wants to represent Puerto Rico, he should be the first one to contact the USA Basketball organization to let them know about his personal desire to play for the island’s national team. Any other effort would just constitute an undue intromission made by the Puerto Rican Basketball Federation and its officers.