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NBA star Carmelo Anthony announces purchase of NASL team Puerto Rico FC

NBA star Carmelo Anthony is joining the ranks of sports team owners.

The New York Knicks forward announced at a Thursday news conference that his new club, Puerto Rico FC, will join the North American Soccer League and begin play in 2016.

"My passion for soccer has always been there," Anthony told ESPN FC in an exclusive interview.

"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."

Puerto Rico FC will be the NASL's 13th club after the league recently added Miami FC on May 20.

The club, which will begin play in the 2016 NASL fall season, will play its home matches at the recently renovated Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium. Located in Bayamon, about 10 miles from the capital city of San Juan, the 12,500-seat stadium serves as the home base for the Puerto Rico national team.

This isn't the first time that a professional club has set up shop in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico Islanders played in various leagues from 2003 until 2012 before going on hiatus after the conclusion of the 2012 NASL season.

During that time the Islanders made a memorable run to the semifinals of the 2008-09 CONCACAF Champions League before falling to Liga MX powerhouse Cruz Azul.

"It was a perfect chance for me to not only revive that energy and that club, but to start something fresh," Anthony said. "I want to be that one team that represents Puerto Rico."

Anthony's ties to the island run deep. He and his wife are of Puerto Rican descent, and for the past several years he has has engaged in charitable efforts, including the opening of basketball courts all over Puerto Rico. Now his intention is to increase his investment in the island.

"For me, it's more about bringing that global awareness back to Puerto Rico," he said. "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."

Anthony insisted that this new venture will not distract him from his day job, playing for the Knicks.

"Basketball is my No. 1 thing," he said. "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 [Puerto Rico FC] on a day-to-day basis."

The eight-time NBA All-Star recently traveled to Cuba as a guest of Pele for the New York Cosmos' historic match against the Cuban National Team in Havana. Last year, Anthony spent time with Real Madrid when the Spanish club spent part of its preseason training in the Los Angeles area.

As a team owner, Anthony joins the likes of former Brazil striker Ronaldo, Paolo Maldini and Riccardo Silva, who have all recently invested in NASL clubs. Ronaldo became a part owner of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in December, while Maldini and Silva brought Miami FC to the league last month.

Anthony also told ESPN.com his rehab from left knee surgery is ahead of schedule.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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