For the last decade and a half, few athletes have inhabited the role of basketball star like Carmelo Anthony. He won a college championship as a teenager, led the league in scoring while captivating crowds in the world’s biggest market, brought home gold medals on the international stage and rose as an influential figure in fields of fashion, entrepreneurialism and social reform. If anyone mentions “Melo,” you know exactly who they’re talking about.

On a bright afternoon in early April, none of the trappings of outsize celebrity were visible. Anthony was casually dipped in a gray sweatsuit and seated on a couch in a largely-empty basketball facility in Edmond, Oklahoma. Used by the Oklahoma team’s G-League affiliate, the complex is surrounded by flatlands, pet food factories and dusty parking lots. The 10-time All-Star had arrived with his business team.

“A lot of times, people in my position just go along with the flow,” Anthony said. “I’ve done a lot. I always try to put it in perspective. Okay, who played 15 years in the league, was still active and on top of the game?”

He let the question linger. And the answer, of course, is not many. Anthony is the 19th-leading scorer in league history and ranks third among all current players—we’re talking about a generational bucket-maker here. Two days after the interview, the 33-year old forward would drop 22 points (on an efficient 14 field goal attempts) and snatch 6 boards as his team claimed a crucial 108-102 victory over the Western Conference leaders.

“When you love something, you’re gonna go all out for it,” Anthony continued. “You’re gonna continue go the extra mile for it. The game of basketball is all that I knew growing up, so how could I not be in love with it still?”

The lifelong romance between Anthony and basketball began back in Red Hook, an isolated community in Brooklyn known for shipping piers and imposing brick public housing towers. Though he would move to Baltimore at the age of nine, he recalled the magnetism of Red Hook Day, a neighborhood street party with all-day basketball games.

“I remember looking out my project window and seeing the chaos – all the ruckus – it was causing,” he said. “You’d have your young kids, you’d have your teenagers, and then you’d have the older cats who played later. The atmosphere that it created—that’s what I was intrigued by.”

Anthony would graduate from spectator to main attraction. With a remarkable blend of polish, strength, athleticism and caginess, he became one of the most lethal and versatile scorers the game has ever seen. Bullying post moves. Spins off the dribble. Feathery mid-range jumpers. Barrages of 3-point daggers. In January 2014, Anthony harnessed that offensive firepower to drop 62 points against Charlotte, setting a record for the highest-scoring game in history on the Knicks’ home floor.

In Oklahoma, Anthony’s role has shifted. He’s averaging 16.3 points and 5.9 rebounds a game, and no longer shoulders the full burden of being a contender’s go-to guy.

“You not only have another great player on your team—you have two,” he said of the Oklahoma’s talented roster. “Early, we all had the same mindset, like we gonna do the same stuff we were doing back on our own respective teams. But when you all come together, you gotta find out what works. What doesn’t work. What meshes well. That’s the fun part and that’s the challenging part, at the same time.”

The league has evolved into a “pace-and-space” style of fast breaks and long-range shooting, and Anthony has adapted his game accordingly. 40.5% of his shots now come from deep, another spike from last season, when he set a career-high by taking 30.3% of his attempts from beyond the arc.

“If I wasn’t willing to accept that change, then I don’t think people would’ve been able to see the other facets of my game,” he said. “Training is different. The mindset is different. The style of play is different. A lot of players before wouldn’t have been able to make those adjustments in today’s game.”

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