Tuesday night's game between the New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets was rife with key characters from my basketball fandom, on both benches. If I'm being honest here, I had much more history tied up in a pair of Hornets. There was Patrick Ewing, of course -- the man who dominates my earliest basketball memories, the god of MSG during my childhood.
And then there was Jeremy Lin, a player who just may have changed the course of my life. I was puttering around Beijing during the heady days of Linsanity, teaching English and hunting down NBA streams not blocked by the Chinese government, when a Lin highlight clip I found on RenRen inspired me to write my first fanpost for this site. I've been writing about basketball ever since; I even get paid to do it!
Ewing and Lin are also prime examples of the most enduring facet of 21st century Knicks fandom: that any moment worth savoring is going to end as painfully as possible. Ewing was traded away, setting the stage -- at least spiritually -- for the lost decade to come. And Linsanity screeched to a halt in the most MSG way possible -- a well-publicized torrent of awkward maneuvering and pettiness that lingers to this very day.
It came as little surprise that Lin -- a fine reserve guard who has seemingly found his niche in Charlotte -- would come out in the first half and absolutely light the Knicks on fire in front of an MSG crowd which inexplicably (and totally unexpectedly) booed him from the start. This was far more than a former Knick coming back to haunt his old team -- this was a visceral hurt that probably should have faded years ago, that still somehow elicits idiotic outbursts from some fans, self-loathing from other fans, and mockery from the rest of the world. In other words, it was turning into another quintessential Knicks moment.
And then this dude came and swatted it away.
There's nothing normal about Kristaps Porzingis. He's a 20-year-old basketball mutant, descended from the Latvian version of Mt. Olympus, who swishes threes and dunks over three opponents like it was the most natural thing in the world. The only shocking part of his 29-point, 11-rebound outburst was how inevitable it felt -- all the kid had to do was stay out of foul trouble and get a few early shots to fall and he was going to have a game like this. His skill level is that high, even by NBA standards. His composure, intelligence and hunger is that evident, even at such a young age.
This is what is supposed to happen when your team is awarded a high pick in a loaded draft. Porzingis is at this moment the second-best player in the 2015 rookie class, which isn't terribly odd for a No. 4 overall pick. The Knicks have their most promising rookie since Patrick Ewing, and they got him via their highest draft pick since the one they used to select ... Patrick Ewing. For all Porzingis's otherworldly talent, there's something very logical to what he has accomplished so far.
And yet these are the Knicks, so this doesn't feel logical at all. In the twisted world of MSG, a phenomenon like Linsanity makes more sense -- New York is forced into playing a D-Leaguer due to their old, injured, capped out roster; heretofore unknown D-Leaguer sets the world on fire for a few glorious weeks; everybody loses their minds; player leaves town almost immediately thereafter, with hurt feelings all around. Absurdity and heartbreak is all we know.
Kristaps Porzingis is better than Lin, Danilo Gallinari, or Landry Fields, or Iman Shumpert, or any other young player to grab our affection over the years, only to leave. He should be better; he was more highly-touted as a prospect. His introduction to Knicks fans on draft night was painfully awkward, just as it was with Gallo and Shump and every other draft pick over the years, because painfully awkward is all we know how to do. The love showered upon him by the MSG crowd has been so immediate, so potent, and (let's face it) a little desperate because that is also what we do.
But this feels different because the Kristaps experience feels different -- it feels more real. Phil Jackson tasked his best scout, Clarence Gaines, to find the best player available. Phil then drafted that player. Derek Fisher has supported him in a way no Knicks coach has supported a prospect in years. Carmelo Anthony, the team's veteran star, has done everything within his power to bring out the best in him (Melo already seems more comfortable playing with Kristaps than he ever did with Amar'e Stoudemire, am I wrong?). And Porzingis, the hungry young superstar-in-waiting, has fully embraced the challenge.
Kristaps Porzingis is here, my friends. He is a Knick, and he will continue to be a Knick for a long time. That simple fact is so self-evident, which makes it all the more wonderful for any Knicks fan to say aloud. Feel free to bask in the obvious and sensible every morning, my friends. It may take some time getting used to.