You guys aren't going to believe this, but New York Knicks fans were less than thrilled that their team selected Kostas Papanikolaou, a 21-year-old, 6-foot-8 forward from Greece who has played with Euroleague power Olympiacos for the past two seasons, with the 48th pick in Thursday night's 2012 NBA draft. No, I know, the idea of Knicks fans A) hating the guy they just picked and B) instantly assuming the foreign guy is a stiff really seems totally out of character for Knicks fans. But I promise, it happened. See for yourself:
In case you're not familiar with the Knicks' draft past, that instant, unstifled laughter from ESPN's broadcast crew comes in response to the fact that Knicks fans always boo the team's pick.
They (Actually, let's be real; I am a Knicks fan who does this from the comfort of my own home every year, too.) We boo just about every player the Knicks pick, for a few reasons that I will cover in just a bit. For right now, though, the important note is one struck long ago by Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriwether.
You know who else seemed to hate the pick? Marc Berman, the New York Post's Knicks beat reporter, who wrote a sharply dismissive and very perfectly tabloid-y story about what he viewed as the Knicks' failure at 48:
It's all Greek to Knicks fans who thought the club would take a step forward last night in the NBA Draft in trying to win now and build up their bench.
It wasn't worth the wait. [...]
The 21-year-old won't play for the Knicks this season and Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald gave no assurance he will play the following year either. Did somebody say Frederic Weis?
Um, maybe? I didn't hear it, but they might have. One name I have heard, though, is Georgios/Giorgos Printezis, who is Papanikolaou's teammate at Olympiacos. I've heard his name because the Post ran a picture of him alongside Berman's slam-piece. I guess Papanikolaou's such an afterthought that the Post doesn't even think it should print a picture of him in a story about how dumb it was to pick him. Bold editorial stance.
Here's a screengrab of the story on the Post's website taken early Friday afternoon:
Here's what Kostas Papanikolaou looks like:
That is not the same guy. Here is what Georgios/Giorgos Printezis looks like (he's the guy on the right):
That is the same guy. (You can tell by the arm tattoos, if the face/head don't do it for you.)
Now, mistakes happen in the rush of deadline — names get misspelled, headlines don't get corrected, etc — and there's some validity to the frustration Berman writes about at the Knicks coming away with a player who won't arrive stateside for at least a year or two. (Personally, I'd ask which blockbuster prospect chosen between 49 and 60 was going to push the Knicks into title contention next year, but I get that it sucks to twiddle your thumbs as you watch every other fan base play with its new toys.)
But if you're going to run a story about how some Greek kid's a miserable failure, sight unseen, because Frederic Weis wasn't any good 13 years ago, it's probably a good idea to make sure you're calling the right Greek kid a failure, sight unseen. (Especially because Printezis, sight seen, doesn't look like the type of dude you'd want to mess around with.)
Beyond just the photo flub, though, Berman's story is an instructive bit of New York tabloid nonsense because it illustrates how laziness, ignorance, history and the need to Have A Take combine to make us all dumber. It also kind of explains why Knicks fans boo every pick their team ever makes.
My sense is we boo everyone for one of the following four reasons:
• New Yorkers like me who watch almost exclusively pro ball know next to nothing about college basketball that isn't centered on the Big East (and St. John's in particular), New York-area prospects or guys who played in the NCAA tournament. So anytime the selection is someone we didn't grow up reading about as the next great NYC point guard, see at MSG for a breakneck week in late February or watch on national TV for two weeks in March, we assume the team has screwed up. (This goes double for European prospects, who we've never seen and about whom we know nothing save for what international scouting sites tell us, and only real diehards dig into that stuff earlier than a couple of days before the draft.)
• Pessimists like me have a near-total lack of faith in a Knicks organization that has spent most of the past baker's-dozen years flailing and failing (what up, Clyde) to produce a winner, prompting us to believe that most any player New York would actually pick has to be irredeemably flawed in a severe way, which leads us to assume the team has screwed up.
• Some of the smaller-minded xenophobes among us (nope, not taking a step forward here, thanks) still read "European" and "foreign" as euphemisms for "soft" and "less than" — even 20 years after the Dream Team opened the floodgates for international talent coming to our shores, even after Divac and Petrovic and Kukoc and Sabonis and Nowitzki and Gasol and Ginobili and Parker and so many more have shined here. When they hear a name they don't recognize that sounds "ethnic" and has a bunch of syllables in it, they assume the team has screwed up.
• And, you know, for the most part, the team actually has screwed up the draft. Seriously, take a look back over the years: New York's draft history is brutal. Coming into Thursday night, the Knicks had drafted 43 players over the past 25 years. Only two — Mark Jackson and David Lee — have made an All-Star team; each made it once.
Even the good picks the Knicks have made — Landry Fields with a second-round flier, Danilo Gallinari at No. 6 in '08, Wilson Chandler at No. 23 in '07 — get overshadowed by the missed opportunities, like taking Renaldo Balkman one spot ahead of Rajon Rondo in '06, or choosing Channing Frye two picks before Andrew Bynum and nine spots ahead of Danny Granger in '05. And Gallinari aside, the team's very rocky history with international picks — headlined, of course, with Weis over Ron Artest (and, even worse, Andrei Kirilenko) in '99 — sure doesn't help abate the xenophobia. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me repeatedly for 25 years, well, boo.
Never mind that Papanikolaou just scored 18 points and drained five 3-pointers in the Euroleague Final Four championship game to push Olympiacos to a title, or that he roundly outplayed Kirilenko (a stud for CSKA Moscow this year) in the final. Or that he was named the championship round's MVP at age 21 and has been a contributor at the highest levels of European hoops for the past two years. Or that he profiles as a smart complimentary player who can contribute without the ball and defend multiple frontcourt positions. Who's got the time to learn all that when you have to Have A Take in the moment, right now, let's go, chop chop?
So you just blurt, "Who?" and build out your story from there. You feed the Knicks fan's self-centered belief that a title is a birthright (now, next year, every year) by noting that this isn't a win-now pick. You know, unlike all the other late second-rounders being taken. You treat the entirely reasonable point made by the GM you just saddled with Frederic Weis despite the fact that the Frenchman got picked seven years before he even joined the Knicks' front office — "Free agency is important to us this year [...] We hope to make strides in that area. The 48th pick, the success rate isn't that great" — as if it's smokescreen amateur-hour nonsense to hide the real, sinister truth:
That Glen Grunwald, that despicable clownfraud of an executive, couldn't find an instant game-changer with the 48th pick out of 60. What a bum. Booooooooo.
Maybe Berman's right; maybe Papanikolaou never does come over. But it'd sure be neat if at some point or another, my fellow Knicks fans and I would agree to take a deep breath and maybe do some Googling before resorting to the kind of knee-jerk venting that leads us to not only instantaneously judge every pick on some binary win-loss/value-reach/steal-bust scale, but also make immediate and penetrating psychic disappointment a mortal lock every damn year. And it'd be REALLY cool if the guys who cover the team would do it, too. Being reasonable and informed doesn't make you soft or in-the-tank. It just makes you better at your job.
Failing that, though, I guess I'd settle for just getting the right guy in the picture next time.
Video of the crowd's reaction to the Papanikolaou pick via our man @Jose3030.
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- Kostas Papanikolaou