Frank Ntilikina may be in the midst of some early season struggles, but there is still plenty to be pumped about when it comes to the 20-year-old Frenchman, and a year ago this week Ntilikina formed an everlasting bond with Knicks fans when he stood up to a bully named LeBron James.
On November 13, 2017, Knicks fans were still coming down from the high that Kristaps Porzingis had caused with his ridiculous early season play, and the team was sitting at 7-6 while facing the prospect of a daunting matchup against the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden. Under normal circumstances, LeBron’s mere presence in the Big Apple would be enough to get New Yorkers riled up, but in this case James had added some fuel to the fire with comments he made two days prior, after a Cavs victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
James praised Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr., a player the Knicks had bypassed in order to select Ntilikina with the 8th pick in the 2017 NBA draft. The Mavericks took Smith Jr. with the very next pick.
”The Knicks passed on a really good one, and Dallas got the diamond in the rough,” James said, according to ESPN. “He should be a Knick. That’s going to make some headlines, but he should be a Knick. Dallas is definitely, I know they’re excited that he didn’t go there.”
James didn’t explicitly call out Ntilikina, and he actually later clarified that his comments were a clumsy attempt to call out former Knicks president Phil Jackson — the two had previously clashed after James didn’t take kindly to Jackson’s use of the word “posse.” Still, a number of Knicks, including Porzingis and Enes Kanter, came to Ntilikina’s defense after James made his comments, and heading into the Knicks-Cavs game there was a tangible tension in the MSG air.
Nope!!— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) November 12, 2017
We love what we got...
Those tensions came to a head late in the first quarter, after LeBron jammed in an alley-oop to give the Cavs a 23-22 lead with roughly 40 seconds left in the period. Ntilikina went to pick up the ball so the Knicks could inbound and look to retake the lead on the next possession, but LeBron stood in his way, doing one of those things where he pretends he isn’t being an obstruction on purpose even though he clearly is trying to be intimidating.
Ntilikina was not intimidated. He grabbed the ball and then gave LeBron a little shove with his forearm. Instead of walking away, LeBron stood there and wiggled his shoulders in yet another attempt to let Ntilikina know he should be afraid. Ntilikina was not intimidated.
The Garden began to erupt as Ntilikina held both of his arms outstretched in what can only be described as a “come at me, bro” pose. In that moment, he truly became the Monsieur of MSG.
Things getting chippy between LeBron and the Knicks pic.twitter.com/zAhQt6QSvz— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 14, 2017
The Knicks gave the Cavs a run for their money, going up by more than 20 at one point, but a LeBron three pointer with just over a minute left helped the Cavs complete their comeback, and they won the game by a final score of 104-101.
Ntilikina finished the contest with 7 points (2-5 shooting), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 6 steals and 1 punking of LeBron in just over 24 minutes of gametime.
After the game, Ntilikina was asked about the dustup with LeBron, and he (perhaps unwittingly) pushed his way even deeper into the hearts of Knicks fans everywhere by basically saying that it didn’t matter to him that LeBron had been the one involved in the situation.
“He was in my way to get the ball, to get the ball out of bounds,” Ntilikina said. “It could have been anyone, so I just pushed him to get the ball in. He was in my way. It could have been anyone.”