Carmelo Anthony talks about his new venture, NASL side Puerto Rico FC
NBA star Carmelo Anthony is joining the ranks of sports owners, just not in the sport one might expect. Anthony announced on Thursday that he has become the owner of Puerto Rico FC, a new team in the North American Soccer League that will begin play in 2016.
Anthony took time to talk on the telephone with ESPN FC ahead of announcing his new venture.
ESPN FC: How did your passion for soccer develop to the point where you wanted to own a team?
ANTHONY: My passion for soccer has always been there. I just always kept it to myself and among my circle. Going to games, sneaking into games and just watching and being around the sport over the years. The more time ... I started spending in Puerto Rico over the past six, seven years, I realized that there was kind of a void down there on my island. The island didn't really have anything that they could kind of call their own, that they could represent not just on the island but from a global standpoint.
ESPN FC: You met and trained a bit with Real Madrid last year. What was that like?
ANTHONY: Yeah, that was in L.A., and it was fun. One of my best friends, Dontaye Draper, played for Real Madrid but on their basketball team. He was telling me that Real Madrid was coming over to L.A. and [asked] if I wanted to host them and go to practice. I was already working out at UCLA when they came out there, so it was perfect timing that I was able to host them at UCLA, get on the field with them, and kick around some balls and just kind of have some fun and interact with them.
ESPN FC: Both you and your wife are of Puerto Rican descent, and you've done some charity work down there building basketball courts. What are some other reasons why you decided to purchase this team and put it in Puerto Rico?
ANTHONY: I realized three, maybe four years ago that there was a Puerto Rico soccer team there, the Islanders. They were a very successful team, very competitive team in the NASL. For whatever reason over the last couple of years -- a lack of money, lack of ownership -- a lot of the funds were coming from the government and then that got cut down. When the politics come into play, I kind of step away from it. It was a perfect chance for me to not only revive that energy and that club, but to start something fresh. I wanted to be that one team that represents Puerto Rico.
ESPN FC: How much of a time commitment do you think this is going to take? How much is this going to take you away from basketball, do you think?
ANTHONY: Basketball is my No. 1 thing. I'm very hands-on, but it's more about taking the time now during the offseason. I spend a lot of time in Puerto Rico training. I'll do like a mini-training camp down there. Right now it's about putting the right people in place so that when I'm back to my regular job, basketball is my main focus. I'll have a solid group of people running it on a day-to-day basis.
ESPN FC: Are those people in place now or is that search ongoing?
ANTHONY: There are some talks with people right now from a president standpoint and from a GM/head coach standpoint, scout. All of that is coming into play right now.
ESPN FC: How much money did you have to put down to join the league? Or did the league just want you to come on board?
ANTHONY: I can't really give an amount of money I spent to get this thing going, but it was definitely a process. We had to get readmitted into the league. There was already that team in the NASL, but once they [sat out] a couple of seasons, the league took them out and they had to readmit them and go through the admission process again. I had to go to pitch meetings with the board of governors and to the commissioner. All of this stuff has been going on for the past two years. I kind of kept it behind the scenes.
ESPN FC: You said this has been going on for two years. Did you approach them or did they approach you?
ANTHONY: I was in contact with the Islanders first, to try and come on board and see how I could help them get back into the league. Then it grew and got bigger.
ESPN FC: And you're the sole owner?
ANTHONY: I am the sole owner with a potential group that may be involved going forward.
ESPN FC: You're playing in the stadium in Bayamon. Are you exploring building your own stadium or will you continue to play there?
ANTHONY: In Bayamon, we had to work out the details for that. The mayor was very helpful with that, figuring out the lease. But as far as me building a stadium, I think it's more about building affordable housing around the stadium, building the town and the city back up, bringing more jobs to the island, whether it's working with the team, working with the stadium. It's more about bringing the island together and bringing more awareness to the island.
ESPN FC: You said talked to the Islanders first. Are you going to lean on some of their old management to help get this thing going?
ANTHONY: I'm in talks [with] some of the old management, and one of the old coaches who was very successful in Puerto Rico, not only with the Islanders but with the Puerto Rico national team. And also people who were involved in the day-to-day running of the Islanders. All of that will be done in phases. The first phase is to find a president and a GM/coach. I want to get a top scout. Then we'll move on to Phase 2, more about building out the whole club. Once I get that core group, then they'll have a better idea on players and combines. I'll let them deal with that stuff.
ESPN FC: So is Colin Clarke, a former manager of the Islanders, one of the guys you're talking to?
ANTHONY: Colin Clarke, his name has been thrown around. Right now, we're just in the interview process and figuring out what the best fit is.
ESPN FC: So was your investment, say, seven figures?
ANTHONY: [Laughs] It was nowhere near MLS. That's all I can give you.
ESPN FC: How excited are you to take this step into team ownership?
ANTHONY: I'm excited about it. The structure of the league and its business plan, I really gravitated towards that the first time I saw it. The capabilities that each club has on its own, from the standpoint of being an individual club and being individually owned, I like that structure better. I can build it the way I want to build it from the ground up.
I love it from a structural standpoint, but for me it's more about, bring that global awareness back to Puerto Rico. Everyone in the world wants to visit Puerto Rico. And there's a lot of Puerto Ricans scattered throughout the world, and in America alone. I want to connect to those pockets of Puerto Ricans in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Orlando. That's something I want to tap into.
ESPN FC: How often are you able to get back to the island? Obviously, you must get back there a little bit to do the charity work that you've done.
ANTHONY: I spend a lot of time in the offseason there, three weeks at a time. I train down there. That's like my third home after New York and L.A. I go down there to train and just to focus and lock in.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.