Melo owns soccer team in Puerto Rico

Peter Hapak

New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is bringing professional soccer to Puerto Rico.

Anthony is the new owner of Puerto Rico FC, a club that will begin play in the North American Soccer League in 2016, it was announced on Thursday.

“I’m a huge fan of the game,” the eight-time All Star said in a phone interview with ESPN.com. “The sport is growing at a rapid pace, and I wanted to bring it down here to the island.”

Anthony said he’s been in discussions to bring a team to Puerto Rico for several years. Originally, he talked to the ownership of the Puerto Rican Islanders, who played in the NASL from 2011-12, about revitalizing the club.

Those discussions eventually led Anthony to seek ownership of Puerto Rico FC. The club will play its home games at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium, a 12,500-seat venue outside of San Juan. It is NASL’s 13th team.

“I knew that this would be something that would kind of bring my fellow Puerto Ricans all together,” said Anthony, whose late father was Puerto Rican. “This is something they can call their own, something that they represent.”

Anthony, the club’s sole owner, said he has already been in discussions with several candidates for potential front-office roles. His first priority is to hire a president, general manager, coach and lead scout.

“We’ve talked to some people who are very interested in what I’m doing on the island,” he said.

Anthony recently spent time in Cuba as a guest of soccer legend Pele and the NASL’s New York Cosmos to watch the club play a match against the Cuban national team. He says he’s been a “huge” soccer fan for the past “8-10 years.”

Anthony’s ownership of Puerto Rico FC is also part of a larger effort by the NBA star “to impact the island,” he says.

Through his foundation, Anthony has constructed dozens of basketball courts throughout Puerto Rico. He also hosts an annual charity event on the island.

“The first time I went to Puerto Rico, I wanted to start digging into my roots, learning more about my family and connecting those dots,” Anthony said. “That led to, ‘How can I help the island?’ Not just by giving money but by leaving an impact when I’m not there.”

As far as what type of owner he will be, Anthony says he’ll use his experience as a 12-year NBA veteran to guide him.

“That’s my focal point,” he said. “What kind of owner would I want to be under and play for?”

Anthony is currently rehabbing following his February knee surgery. He says that his soccer ownership will in no way impact his rehab or any other responsibilities he has to the Knicks.

“Every day I wake up and spend my mornings in the gym,” Anthony said. “Basketball will always be my No. 1 priority. But also, for me, it’s about laying a foundation [for the future] and kind of stepping outside the box and taking chances. That’s what this is about.”