Byline: Aaron J. Lopez, Rocky Mountain News
INDIANAPOLIS -- Roughneck, leather-coat-wearing racing veteran to his right. Aging, sunglasses-wearing rock 'n' roll icon to his left.
At times Wednesday, Carmelo Anthony wore an expression that said, 'What in the world have I gotten myself into?'
Two days after looking right at home at Madison Square Garden, Anthony visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway to officially announce his partnership with KISS frontman Gene Simmons and the Indy Racing League.
'The only auto racing I knew (growing up) was driving go-karts. I was a go-kart racer,' Anthony said. 'But as I got older, I've been paying attention to NASCAR and the Indy 500. It's exciting. I'm excited.'
Anthony, in his third season with the Denver Nuggets, will team with Simmons and longtime racing owner Ron Hemelgarn to back rookie driver P.J. Chesson for the 2006 IndyCar Series season.
The group was brought together by Simmons, whose marketing company recently became partners with the Indy Racing League.
'Watch us burn rubber, baby,' Simmons said.
Anthony, 21, received little exposure to motor sports while growing up in a rough section of Baltimore, and he seemed in awe at times Wednesday while visiting racing's most hallowed track.
He stared fondly at a blue racing helmet bearing his name and likeness on the side and marveled at the size of an Indy car.
'I'm not getting in there. It's too small,' he said. 'One of my legs can't even fit in there.'
At 5-foot-8, Chesson will handle the driving duties. Despite the differences in their height and backgrounds - Chesson was a medieval history major who loves to surf - Chesson and Anthony already have developed a team bond.
'He's such a chill dude. He's 100 percent supportive,' Chesson said. 'He's like, 'I want you to talk smack and get in there every weekend and don't be scared. I've got your back.' It's cool to have somebody like that. He's got a passion, and we're just going to go with a wing and a prayer.'
As for Simmons, he will serve as a capable mouthpiece for the team.
Apparently a graduate of the Don King School of Promotion, Simmons repeatedly compared racing to the American dream and said his relationship with Anthony and the IndyCar Series began with 'the tug of your heartstrings.'
Told that Anthony does not own a KISS album, Simmons did not seem surprised.
'I'm forbidden fruit,' he said. 'Once you go to certain households, mommy doesn't want you to see that dirty man who sticks his tongue out and spits out blood and all that stuff.'
MARTIN SITS AGAIN: After limping through back-to-back games, Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin was unable to play against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night.
Martin, still bothered by a sore left knee, was unsure whether he would be able to return when Denver closes its seven-game trip with back-to-back games Friday in Memphis and Saturday in New Orleans.
'I know I'm not going to play any big minutes,' he said. 'If it's feeling well enough, then yeah. If not, that's what it is.'
Coach George Karl said he hopes Martin can play at least one of the next two games.
The Nuggets have done well in the 19 games Martin has missed this season, going 15-4. The success has prevented him from rushing his return.
'I want to take care of it as quick as possible, not put yourself in a position where you have to wait till the last week of the season. That's stressful,' he said. 'Every game's a must win, but we have other guys, and I'm confident those guys can get it done.'
ETC.: The Nuggets, who played their fifth game in seven nights, will practice today for the first time since March 8 . . . Though familiar with Anthony, Karl said he was unfamiliar with KISS. 'I think the last group I knew was Styx. Styx and Foreigner.' . . . Former University of Colorado center David Harrison scored eight points for the Pacers. He had scored seven in two career games against the Nuggets.