An interesting memoir about family, struggle, and basketball
A raw and inspirational memoir about growing up in the housing projects of Red Hook and Baltimore — a brutal world Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised.
For a long time, Carmelo Anthony’s world wasn’t any larger than the view of the hoopers and hustlers he watched from the side window of his family’s first-floor project apartment in Red Hook, Brooklyn. He couldn’t dream any bigger than emulating his older brothers and cousin, much less going on to become a basketball champion on the world stage.
He faced palpable dangers growing up in the housing projects in Red Hook and West Baltimore’s Murphy Homes (a.k.a. Murder Homes, subject of HBO’s The Wire). He navigated an education system that ignored, exploited, or ostracized him. He suffered the untimely deaths of his closely held loved ones. He struggled to survive physically and emotionally. But with the strength of family and the guidance of key mentors on the streets and on the court, he pushed past lethal odds to endure and thrive.
By the time Carmelo found himself at the NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden in 2003 preparing to embark on his legendary career, he wondered: How did a kid who’d had so many hopes, dreams, and expectations beaten out of him by a world of violence, poverty, and racism make it here at all?
Carmelo’s story is one of perseverance and determination; of dribbling past players bigger and tougher than him, while also weaving around vial caps and needles strewn across the court; where dealers and junkies lined one side of the asphalt and kids playing jacks and Double Dutch lined the other; where rims had no nets, and you better not call a foul — a place Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised.
I didn’t know that much about Carmelo Anthony before reading Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised. As someone who follows the NBA, I’d of course heard his name and that he was a star. In January 2020, shortly before the pandemic rolled in, he snatched victory away from the Toronto Raptors in the last live game I saw. (It was a superb, albeit frustrating, shot.) So, when I had the opportunity to read his new memoir, I jumped at the chance. And I’m glad I did — this wasn’t the memoir I was expecting, but it it is an excellent glimpse into the mind and early life of a basketball All-Star.
One thing to note up front is that the memoir does not cover Anthony’s NBA career at all: it ends on Draft Night, and charts his life from the housing projects of Red Hook, to Baltimore, and the gyms and street courts that moulded his game, his personality, and his outlook on life. It is also a sharp critique of American education and life.
Family is a central theme of the book, and its importance to Anthony is crystal clear. He didn’t really know his father (he died when the author was very young), but the family’s stories and memories of him inform much of the way Anthony looks at the world. His mother, his brothers, and cousin all feature prominently in his early years — until, in some cases, tragedy struck and took certain people way. In a story that I’ve been seeing and reading more often, his skill kept him separated from some of the harsher, more dangerous aspects of life in the projects: his elders and family steering him away from certain people and pastimes that would prevent him from getting out. There are a number of wrenching moments in the memoir, and it reminds readers that in certain places in America, far too much is asked and expected of some at far too young an age.
The NBA was not a childhood ambition of Anthony’s. The book opens with some reflections on Draft Night:
LeBron was excited, Wade was excited. I was even excited for them, as well as for everybody at the Garden that night living their dreams. They were probably equally excited for me, thinking that I had achieved my dream, too. But what’s funny is that the NBA wasn’t my dream…
I’m not like most basketball players. I never obsessed over this day, this suit, or this moment of shaking David Stern’s hand. Don’t get me wrong, I was beyond grateful for these things. But until it actually happened, I just couldn’t see it. I’m not sure if I didn’t want to jinx myself or I thought it was too unreal, or if it was because for me, all of this top-player stuff just happened so fast. I just know I never thought about it. I never allowed myself to be lost in a dream that could be easily snatched away.
The memoir does a great job of charting his path to the NBA. Anthony, as I’ve said earlier, was very family focused, and was keen to learn at school. His skills on the court seemed to surface gradually, and he did enjoy the popularity and attention that came with high school and college sports success. However, despite his achievements on the court, he was nevertheless subject to the biases and bigotry of those in power — some of whom took exception to him for things that should be applauded in a student (asking questions and having a generally curious mind, for example). Held back and unfairly punished by authority figures, Anthony had to take some of his education into his own hands, in order to get to college (Syracuse, where he thrived).
Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised is often more a commentary on American society in general, than it is about basketball. I found Anthony’s thoughts on education, religion and racial bias particularly interesting, clearly expressed, thought-provoking, and often original. His experiences at the Catholic school, in particular, are excellent examinations on the ways in which the system is unequal, created to keep people “in their place”, and enforce one strict ideology on others. The topic of student athletes is also well-covered, and the ways in which high schools and colleges can exploit their stars for their own benefit.
… how did I — a kid who’d had so many hopes, dreams, and expectations beaten out of him — make it here at all?
This is a question I’m sure many athletes have asked themselves, and will likely continue to ask themselves. Reading Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised gives us an engaging, often moving glimpse of Anthony’s answer to this question. Definitely recommended.