NEW YORK — After watching Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor come off the board with the first three picks in the 2015 NBA draft, the New York Knicks went on the clock with a plethora of options still available. They selected Kristaps Porzingis, a 7-foot forward who previously played professional ball in Spain and whose combination of size, shooting touch, rim-protecting potential and excellent workouts made him one of the fastest-rising stars in the pre-draft process.
The Knicks fans assembled at Barclays Center in Brooklyn evidently did not share NBA talent evaluators' high opinions of the 19-year-old Latvian:
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I mean, GIFs are great and all, but as is always the case with Knicks fans reacting to their team's draft picks, you really need the audio:
And here's what it sounded like from the belly of Barclays:
That, it's fair to say, is not exactly the warmest welcome a draftee can receive from the fans in front of whom he'll be suiting up come the fall.
It's also very much par for the course for Knicks fans, who love nothing more than booing their team's draft choices. (To be fair, the Knicks haven't exactly nailed an awful lot of drafts over the years.) There seems to be a different level of venom, however, reserved for European selections, including Danilo Gallinari, Kostas Papanikolaou, and now, Porzingis.
Some of those boos stem from a short-sighted, misplaced and outdated brand of xenophobia that pegs foreign-born players as "soft" or in some way inescapably lesser than American-bred prospects. Many, though, come from simple ignorance — the fact that the fans just don't know a whole lot about these guys whose games aren't televised stateside. Porzingis gets it, and as eager as he is to prove his worth, he doesn't hold it against those who came first with hate.
"I think American fans, they know more college guys than guys overseas," Porzingis said. "But my agent did a great job of putting my name out there in the news and having a lot of interviews and media stuff, so the people in New York and all over America can get to know me better. I think more and more fans are getting to know me better now."
While the quintessentially New York reaction to the selection included infinitely more volume than nuance, there are some reasonable questions about how Porzingis will transition to the rigors of playing the power forward and/or center positions in the NBA, as voiced by NBA TV's Steve Smith:
But in his post-selection press conference, Porzingis sounded willing — eager, even — to turn his critics into true believers.
"I mean, a lot of fans weren't happy that they drafted me, but I have to do everything that's in my hands to turn those booing fans into clapping fans," Porzingis said. "There's nothing I can do. I was happy about it. I want to be a part of this organization, and I know the fans are a little harsh sometimes, but that's how it is here in New York, and I'm ready for it."
Before the draft, Porzingis had spoken in glowing terms about New York, calling the Knicks "the best organization in the NBA." He doubled-down on his appreciation on Thursday, beaming as he brandished the Knicks jersey — complete with his name on the back — that he'd received before entering the interview room in the bowels of Barclays.
"What can I say? You see this for me?" he said, holding the jersey aloft. "For me, it's a dream come true to play for the Knicks. I wanted to see myself in this situation. I've been visualizing it. Now it's here, and I can't wait to be a part of this organization and get to work."
Porzingis repeated that phrase, "get to work," a few times, and referenced the importance of a hard-hat attitude as he tries to find his footing alongside Knicks All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.
"I think Carmelo is a great player," Porzingis said. "He makes players around him better. Whatever thing, whatever Carmelo wants me to do, I will do that out on the court just to prove that I'm worthy enough to be on the court with him, starting with the dirty jobs — just getting rebounds, getting shots, getting blocks and just running the court."
As excited as he seemed to have landed in New York and to be playing in Madison Square Garden — "Such a historic place," he said — the former Sevilla standout knows full well that he's got quite a task ahead of him when it comes to winning over fans weary after capping more than a decade of dysfunction with the worst season in franchise history, whether or not they lustily booed his selection.
"I heard New York fans and people in New York are hard-working fans, so they want to see players work hard on the court," he said. "That's the first thing I've got to do. As a young guy, I've got to bring energy, and hopefully we can turn this around."
Knicks president of basketball operations Phil Jackson clearly believes Porzingis had the best chance of anybody available at No. 4 of helping New York get back on the right track:
Anticipating it is one thing. Being ready for that crushing cascade of boos, though, is quite another. Welcome to New York, Kristaps. And good luck.
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