I think it is fair to say, without even a hint of hyperbole, that Mindaugas Kuzminskas is the most popular basketball player in the history of the world. Certain the MSG faithful have taken young Cheese under their wing, chanting “KUUUUUUUUUUUUUUZ” in unison whenever the Lithuanian string bean launches a shot.
It might surprise you, however, to learn just how popular Kuzminskas is in the exclusive community of chess grandmasters. Recently the world’s No. 1 chess player, Magnus Carlsen, defeated Sergey Karjakin in the World Championships in New York. Carlsen’s coach, fellow grandmaster Peter Heine Nielsen, took advantage of his time in the Big Apple as any true chess pro would, by finding someone to sell him a “Kuzminskas” jersey, per an interview with a Lithuanian TV station:
(The following is roughly translated from Lithuanian):
Magnus is a basketball fan who wore the legendary Barcelona Olympics Lithuanian National Team T-shirt with the skull at the last Chess World Cup in Sochi. But his love of Lithuanian basketball lags far behind my own, joked chess grandmaster Peter Heine Nielsen, the World Champion’s trainer, who added that, since he was in New York [for the World Championships], he went and purchased a Knicks T-shirt with the name of “M. Kuzminskas.”
Apparently both Carlsen and his coach spent much of the last few weeks monitoring Kuzminskas’ progress (oh, and also winning the world title):
Perhaps the world champion has his favorite Lithuanian basketball players?
He monitors all Lithuanians playing in the NBA, and in the European Championship he was fascinated by Jonas Mačiulis. Since we are already in New York, we were watching the Knicks game and Mindaugas Kuzminskas on television. He has a great “team player” style. It was a little bad luck that we missed [Wednesday’s game] but sitting in the car and celebrating championship, we were pleasantly surprised when we checked Kuzminskas’ statistics — in the game with the Minnesota he had 14 points! A real feast!
It should be noted that neither Carlsen (Norwegian) nor Nielsen (Danish) come from Lithuania. They simply appreciate greatness when they see it.