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Kristaps and me: how I learned to love the Knicks again

Take a flashback with me for a moment. It’s 2013, and your favorite Sports Editor is riding on Cloud Nine after his beloved hometown team has had their best season in years. The New York Knicks — a longtime source of shame for many in the Big Apple — had absolved themselves of the previous decade’s disappointments. With a record of 54-28, and a long-overdue trip to the conference semifinals, the team had finally become something that all of us could look upon with pride.

For those of you who have watched the Orange and Blue in the following two years, you understand the agony I’ve felt. Watching our team succumb to injuries and poor coaching, to fall back down to the dredges of the NBA, was probably worse than taking my first math midterm at Princeton.


But today, I want to talk about a man. A man that has given me hope in the future. The man who has taught me how to love basketball again.

His name is Kristaps, Kristaps Porzingis. A string bean of a power forward straight out of Latvia that has taken the NBA by storm, he looks to be the most promising Knicks rookie in recent memory. He entered the league without much confidence from his fan base — indeed, there was a well-circulated video on the internet of a young Knicks fan beginning to sob upon Porzingis’s selection in the NBA draft.

But young Kristaps has risen to the challenge. He averages 13.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game — stellar numbers for a player new to the rigors of the world’s best league. He has incredibly defensive instincts, a swiftness of feet not seen in most big men and the ability to stretch the defense (shooting 30 percent from behind the arc). He has almost every tool a coach could ask for in a young big man.

Porzingis, however, despite his litany of physical skills, has been more than just an excellent player. His rise to success speaks to something that Knicks fans have historically had such a dearth of — feel-good stories.

Knicks fans (and, I imagine, sports fans in high profile cities like Chicago, Miami and L.A.) tend to have a “win-now” kind of mentality. The idea of going through a long period of rebuilding, drafting the right people and signing middle-of-the-road free agents, tends not to be the game plan. It’s far more a New York attitude to swing for the fences and sign the biggest name possible at the moment. This approach, while on occasion producing quality teams (see the Amar'e Stoudemire-Carmelo Anthony duo) has more often than not given Knicks fans overpaid and underperforming players — sad times for all.

But with Porzingis, the feel is entirely different. As a Knicks fan, I don’t expect to win a championship now. I don’t expect to win a championship in the next few years. But getting to watch Kristaps feeds me in a way that goes beyond the instant gratification of having a championship-caliber team. It plants the feeling of hope inside of me, hope that brighter days are on the horizon.


I doubt many in the country can forget the mania that was Linsanity. In 2012, Jeremy Lin put a struggling Knicks team back in playoff contention and in the world spotlight. It was a period of unbridled joy and excitement I have not felt as a Knicks fan since. In a sense, I could understand we weren’t going to win a championship. The idea that Jeremy could lead us to the O’Brien Trophy always felt a little absurd. But to see him ignite a fire in a fanbase so hungry for players to love was an unbelievable sight to behold.

It’s hard to say the exact same feeling is felt with Porzingis. Part of Lin’s mystique came from his Asian-American heritage, virtually unseen in the NBA before him. Porzingis is a big man with a soft touch and solid jump shot, fitting the mold of many a European big man before him. But to see him, at such a young age (he just passed his 20th birthday), performing the way he is, it’s hard not to want to love him.

As one of the most storied franchises in the NBA continues to find its way back to relevance, the fans will see more than their fair share of suffering. That being said, having this uber-talented rookie, who shows the desire to get better and passion on the court, makes the process all the more easy.

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