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RJ Barrett is making it really easy to like him

Hopefully the likability translates once the real hooping begins

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2019 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot
R.J. Barrett cradles a basketball like it’s his own child.
Photo by Sean Berry/NBAE via Getty Images

RJ Barrett has been described as a consolation prize, but the 19-year-old swingman is quickly hardwiring himself into the hearts of Knicks fans and providing hope that the team might have selected someone who could be part of a successful core for the long haul.

When even Patrick Ewing’s presence on the dais didn’t help the Knicks win the Zion Williamson lottery, there was at first a pervasive sense of dismay in New York. That foreboding feeling of despair continued as free agency came closer and it became clear those dreams of snatching a couple of superstars were not actually going to come to fruition.

And yet, with the season only a few weeks away, things don’t seem so bleak. Most Knicks fans realize the team is not likely to take a huge leap this year, but the future actually appears quite bright, so long as the front office doesn’t completely screw everything up again.

NBA: New York Knicks-Media Day
The front office.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

For his part, Barrett has spent the summer doing everything in his power to prove the Knicks did not totally miss out on a major basketballer when they received the third pick instead of the first. He’s done so in a variety of ways, such as showing clear improvement as the Summer League went on, signing with PUMA in a nod to the legendary Walt Clyde Frazier, and saying all sorts of fantastic things in a recent interview with GQ.

Let’s dig in.

If at first you don’t succeed, just make sure you improve as Summer League goes on

People were hyped heading into the first action of Summer League this year, as the annual Las Vegas tournament tipped off with a game between the Knicks and the New Orleans Pelicans, aka the battle of Barrett vs. Zion.

However, it was Barrett’s first game as a pro, and the butterflies were abundant. He shot 4-18 from the floor, including 1-8 from deep, and generally looked like a guy who was not ready to tango with the big boys. In the second game of Summer League, against the Phoenix Suns, Barrett was just as bad. He shot 3-15 overall (1-5 from three), grabbed 10 rebounds (hey that’s good!) and had 8 turnovers (bad).

At that point, the sky wasn’t just falling. It had already collapsed and we were all suffocating to death under its weight. Except for Barrett, who showed he was still breathing by way of a bounceback performance against the Toronto Raptors (17 points on 6-14 shooting, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 turnover).

He wouldn’t have another horrific Summer League game, and when you look at his overall statistics and consider the improvement he showed, Barrett’s summer play signals that he might just be the type of tantalizing talent the Knicks desperately need.

Barrett’s Summer League stats.

Thanks for the interest other shoe companies, but Barrett’s a PUMA guy

Most notable rookies sign with shoe brands like Nike or Adidas, probably because those major shoe companies have significant sway in the NBA. Nike makes the NBA’s jerseys, for example, and before the eight-year deal Nike signed in 2015, Adidas was the league’s apparel maker.

It probably would have been easy for Barrett to ink a deal with Nike, which also houses the iconic Jordan Brand, but he picked PUMA, a company that last year inked Kevin Knox to a shoe deal and also has long-standing ties to the Knicks thanks to Walt Clyde Frazier.

New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics
Clyde not only dished, but also swished while wearing PUMAs.
Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

”I waited for a long time, and I really just wanted to weigh my options,” Barrett said in this ESPN story on his PUMA deal. “I really looked at Nike and Adidas hard, but at the end of the day, it came down to Puma and I’m very happy and excited to be a part of the Puma family.”

The way it all went down was pretty sweet. First, a Barrett billboard went up near Madison Square Garden, and then the rookie cryptically asked fans to meet him for an announcement, which ended up being the PUMA signing. There were free hot dogs and t-shirts for those in attendance. That’s how you engender love.

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Puma fam

A post shared by Rj Barrett (@rjbarrett) on

The PUMA signing also served as a sign that Barrett is ready to handle the aspect of being a professional basketball player in New York that involves knowing Knicks history well enough to answer questions in the appropriate manner. Take this interview he did with an outlet called Hypebeast, for instance.

Great answers.

GQ chose to profile Barrett even though one of his answers was “See, I’ve never really been into fashion.”

Speaking of knowing how to answer questions, Barrett did a stupendous job in this recent interview with GQ.

For starters, the story begins with Barrett saying that “John Starks is one of my favorite players,” and then noting the following:

“To see what the Knicks were able to do in the past, and how the city really got behind them—you want to get back there so badly.”

Hello, is this the doctor’s office? We’re going to need a serious dose of that quote to be administered daily until the start of the regular season, and perhaps beyond.

In addition to that lovely sentence, Barrett went on to say a number of things Knicks fans should be able to rally behind. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights, shall we?

On how Justin Bieber shouldn’t really be considered a Canadian anymore:

GQ: You’re from Toronto, which has enjoyed a pop culture renaissance with Drake, the Weeknd, Justin Bieber, several NBA players. That’s a new thing for your city.

RJ Barrett: It’s not normal, especially in the short time span. We have PartyNextDoor, Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson and those guys. Justin Bieber doesn’t count. He doesn’t talk about Canada anymore. If you didn’t know, you’d think he was from L.A.

He’s no Celine Dion.

Celine Dion, she’s magnificent. She has the voice of an angel.

On the rebuild the Knicks are currently in the midst of:

The Knicks are rebuilding. What’s the most games you’ve lost in a season?

I’m not going to lie to you, I haven’t really lost. Maybe nine or ten games in the past five years. And even when I was younger, I was always winning championships. But losing is just a way to learn. It exposes your flaws.

His response to a question asking about his “basketball reference points.”

Michael Jordan retired, for the first time, before you were born. What are your basketball reference points?

I definitely think Michael Jordan was the greatest to ever do it. But in my era, I just loved the way LeBron could do everything. He could pass, he could score whenever he wants, he could play defense. Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of Steve Nash, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook, guys that use the pick and roll and set people up.

Finally, here’s the full quote about Barrett not really being into fashion that was teased above:

What designers or brands are you into?

See, I’ve never really been into fashion. I’m just starting to learn a little bit. Obviously, you gotta go with the regulars, the Guccis and Louis Vuittons and Dolce & Gabbana. Whenever I can put a fresh, clean suit on, I’m like a peacock. That’s my most confident moment.

A well-dressed Barrett believes he a beautiful peacock, and contrary to what many of you may think, peacocks actually can fly. Here, let’s end this with some footage of Barrett soaring to the rim for his first NBA dunk when the season kicks off in San Antonio against the Spurs less than two months from now.