Kelenna Azubuike tells story of coming up short when selling jersey number to Carmelo Anthony

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Carmelo Anthony puts deep thought into his jersey number.

When traded to the Knicks in 2011, he wanted No. 7. The No. 15 he wore with the Nuggets and at Syracuse was retired for Earl Monroe and Dick McGuire. The No. 22 he wore in high school was retired for Dave DeBusschere. So, Anthony settled on No. 7 – because 22-15=7 and his son’s birthday is March 7.

One problem: Kelenna Azubuike was already wearing No. 7 for the Knicks.

Azubuike on NBC Sports California:

Donnie Walsh, who was the GM at the time calls me into his office and he’s like, “Carmelo is telling us he wants your number.” I’m like, “Well, he’s going to have to give me something. He’s got to pay me something, right?” Donnie Walsh was like, “Well, you guys just talk it out and figure out the numbers.” I’m like, “OK, cool.” So, Carmelo comes in there. I say what’s up to him. I’m like, “Bro, let me hold something. Come up off that paper. I know you’re paid.” He’s like, “Don’t worry. I got you.” I start to throw out a number, and he doesn’t let me get it out. He’s like, “I got you. Don’t worry about it.” So, I’m thinking, you know what? I’ve seen people pay people for jersey numbers, 50, 100 thousand. I’m thinking 20 racks minimum. And my boys are hyping me up. And I walk in the next day, and he hands me a check for three thousand dollars. I’m like, “Bro, come on.”

That was it. I almost walked up to him before the game and was like, “Bro, can I get an extra 10 Gs for that jersey number.”

The problem was I didn’t have any leverage with the team. I wasn’t a star. If I was a star, I could have been like, “Nothing less than 50 racks. I’m not coming off this number seven.” But I didn’t have that leverage. I was hurt. I didn’t even get to play. He knew that. He had all the power. I blame my boys for my high expectations, because they got in my head. They were like, “Bro, this dude is super paid. You’ve got to hit him over the head with nothing less than 100K.” I’m like, “You’re right!”

Azubuike was right about his lack of leverage. New York waived him within a week of acquiring Anthony. If they needed to drop Azubuike sooner to appease their new star, the Knicks probably would have.

But I’m not sure being a better player would’ve allowed Azubuike to extract more money from Anthony. If he were better, Azubuike probably would’ve been in Denver as part of the ever-expanding haul Masai Ujiri got from James Dolan.

At least it worked out for Anthony. He turned “Stay Me7o” into a catchphrase, and he might even see his No. 7 hang from the rafters.