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With Carmelo back, hope for a golden era

WP: On the day before his self-inflicted purgatory came to an end, Carmelo Anthony decided to brave a light snowfall and drive to Pepsi Center for an individual workout with Denver Nuggets assistant coaches.
Anthony Iverson Basketball
Carmelo Anthony is eager and ready to return from suspension.David Zalubowski / AP
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

On the day before his self-inflicted purgatory came to an end, Carmelo Anthony decided to brave a light snowfall and drive to Pepsi Center for an individual workout with Denver Nuggets assistant coaches.

Blizzard conditions here a few weeks ago stretched by two days the 15-game suspension Anthony received for punching the New York Knicks' Mardy Collins. But with Anthony finally set to return after a 37-day absence Monday night against Memphis, the NBA's leading scorer was too anxious to spend another afternoon in his house. "I was coming in, snow or no snow," Anthony said.

Following a 90-minute workout on the main floor of an empty arena that surely will be filled with a raucous sellout crowd on Monday, Anthony grabbed a seat and made a wager with Nuggets video coordinator Jack Murphy. If Murphy made a shot from beyond half court, Anthony owed him 100 push-ups upon request. The shot splashed through the net. Anthony lowered his head and laughed.

"I need one," Murphy shouted toward Anthony as he walked through the tunnel.

Anthony hit the ground and did one push-up. Giggling as he rose to his feet, Anthony said, "Murph, I get 20 push-ups off for everything I sign for you, right?" More laughter ensued.

Anthony has experienced several lows and highs since the fight at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 16, but he was obviously in good spirits, even though he wasn't able to practice with his teammates, who pulled off a thrilling overtime victory in Houston on Saturday. Denver's record is 7-8 without him.

"They need a day off," said Anthony, who sent a text message thanking each of his teammates after the game. "I don't want to make them suffer for me. I already made them suffer enough."

With one jab to Collins — whose body slam of Nuggets guard J.R. Smith on the way to the basket led to a brawl that resulted in 10 ejections and seven suspensions — Anthony seemingly punched a hole through all of the goodwill that he had accumulated through the past year. He was experiencing his best season as a professional, coming off a summer in which he was the best player on the U.S. national team and shared the spotlight with 2003 draft peers LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Two days before the fight, he donated $1.5 million to a youth center in Baltimore that will bear his name.

"Negative things always overshadow positive things, but I hope people won't forget what I did or the type of person I am," Anthony said after his workout.

The 22-year-old forward has made his share of mistakes in recent years — but those incidents never resulted in him missing time from basketball. Anthony said he spent his free time watching movies, sleeping and attending doctor's meetings with his fiancee, LaLa Vasquez, who is pregnant with their son, due in late February. Mostly, Anthony has battled boredom. "It's been tough," he said.

Anthony, along with his representatives Bill Duffy and Calvin Andrews, also met with NBA Commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver on Friday. "I expressed to him that I wanted to put this behind me and he told me to put it behind me and just move forward, control my emotions," Anthony said.

On Sunday, Anthony issued an open letter to the fans and the team promising that was going "to be better, stronger and smarter on the court than I've ever been before."

He referred to the game against Memphis as "a new beginning," but it is about more than just Anthony's return. It also will be the first game in which he will share the court with seven-time all-star and four-time scoring champion Allen Iverson, who was acquired from Philadelphia the day after Anthony was suspended. Iverson likened playing with Anthony to opening a Christmas present. Anthony said he hasn't been this excited for a basketball game since the 2003 NCAA championship with Syracuse.

"I ain't going to be too amped up. I still got to do what I was doing, playing at the level that I was playing at," Anthony said. "The crowd is going to go crazy. If I can come back and win the game, it'll be perfect."

Anthony said he expects to continue playing at the same level as before the suspension, when he averaged a career-high 31.6 points per game and appeared headed toward his first all-star appearance. People around the league are interested in seeing if Anthony will be able to coexist with Iverson, the league's third-leading scorer.

"Everybody saying we can't do it -- it's motivation. It's getting on our nerves. We're both irritated by that question," said Anthony, who practiced with Iverson and his Nuggets teammates for the first time last week. "He doesn't want to be the man no more. He never had the chance to sit back and not have to score 30, 40, 50 points a night to win a basketball game."

Iverson has already proclaimed the Nuggets "Carmelo's team."

"He's the face of this franchise," Iverson said. "The fans here relate to Carmelo Anthony. It is his team. It's all of our team. It's going to take us all to try to win a championship. We understand we're going to need each other."

Iverson and Anthony had already formed a friendship after running into each other at nightspots around Washington. They also became closer as members of the 2004 Olympic team. Anthony said that out of all of the words of encouragement that he heard during his layoff, it meant the most to hear Iverson say that he had his back. "You rarely find people that have your back in this industry," Anthony said.

In Iverson, Anthony also has a teammate who experienced a similarly bumpy road in the early stages of his career yet managed to overcome it.

"I feel I can share things with him and he can do the same with me. We're basketball players and we've basically lived the same life, as far as the fame, and the money and the leeches and yes men. And all the things that come with it. And we talk about things like that," Iverson said. "I can let him know that you can make mistakes and overcome them. People make mistakes in life. Lot of times people think that we're not human and we're going to make mistakes like everybody else. It's important not to make the mistake twice. He don't need his ego stroked; he got enough people doing that."

Although Anthony was concerned that the punch would do irreparable damage to the image he had spent so much time solidifying, he said he didn't see evidence of that during the rare times he left his house.

"I've been getting a lot of positive feedback," Anthony said. "I'm in a great state of mind now. Things are clearer. I have a son on the way. A lot of good things are happening. It's time to move forward now. "