Veteran center and former Knick Kyle O’Quinn joined SNY’s The Putback with Ian Begley this week to talk about life in the NBA Bubble with the Sixers, the social justice initiatives sparked by the Milwaukee Bucks striking ahead of Game 5 of their playoff series against Orlando, Carmelo Anthony’s resurgence, how free agents view the Knicks – and more.
Here is part of our conversation with O’Quinn...
SNY: What did you think of the social justice initiatives that resulted from the Bucks’ strike last month?
“You commend the Milwaukee Bucks for doing something like that, that was a bold move. I love how the brotherhood stood together and everyone kind of followed suit. And coaches and organizations and owners felt like they had a part (in) it as well. I thought it was the right thing to do just to raise a little more awareness and just to let people know the true message is basketball is a luxury and there’s bigger things going on in the world.
“…In order to make change you’ve got to provide opportunity and you have to commit to the opportunity that you’re willing to give people – young African Americans, young college graduates. And that comes in all shapes and sizes…. That’s the kind of change I’m talking about. Opportunities and financial commitments from these big corporations to help the people at the bottom work their way up the pole.
“Each team has a responsibility -- whether it’s the first guy or the 15th guy on the team. You have to appoint somebody to speak these things out into existence because, not for nothing, not too many owners have too many relationships with the players. You talk to a man eye-to-eye, he’ll understand what you’re saying. Owners are humans too and I think they want to help, their heart is in the right place, considering their players are being affected by this. Also, they have to learn too, how to help. And I think players can relay the message properly … and owners will probably, nine times out of 10, do their part.”
O’Quinn said the daily conversations about social issues among players in the Bubble were valuable.
“It was tough leaving because you miss those conversations about what’s going on in the world. You miss those conversations of (asking teammates), ‘What do you think?’ Hearing perspective of European players, hearing perspective of white players and black players. You have nowhere to go so every day over dinner was an educational conversation and everybody got to add in. Whether you went to school for one year, two years, three years, four years, or if [you’re] from overseas and you just dreamed of playing here not really understanding what was going on in (our) world.”
The Queens native feels strongly that having a group direct money and resources in the right areas is crucial if you want to produce meaningful change.
“The money that is being committed to has to be allocated the proper way,” he said. “I always use the example: If you give a homeless man $100, he doesn’t know, ‘Should I get a hot meal or should I get a hotel for a hot shower?’… So we need to have someone in place to allocate the money properly. As an example, with the money I give to my university every year, I’m not overseeing every dollar but I am pointing it in the right direction where it’s helping the university (in specific ways) where I know it needs to be helped. I think these big donors want to help but they have to be pointed in the right direction.”
SNY: What do you think about the Knicks being a destination for free agents?
“All my years in the NBA, I’m super grateful for every year. I’m super grateful for training camp down to the last game, the exit meeting. But when you start looking at guys’ careers who came before you and you start measuring it, and you say, ‘In Year 3, I want to be here and in Year 7, I want to be here.’ And you start looking at some of the things that happened to players before you (in New York), it’s kind of like, you never really know. I think the team, the New York Knicks, will always get attention because you play in the best place ever, period. I just think that guys look at their career and they question, ‘Can I get it done there? Can I succeed there?’ And I think that’s the biggest thing. I think New York will always be in the discussion when you have a free agent target simply because New York is New York. But I think until it’s a situation where (you say) ‘OK, I can blueprint off this. I know I can play for that coach, and this, that and the third. I don’t think that New York will get the respect it deserves in free agency from these big players until those kinds of things happen.
“You guys have a good coach now in (Tom) Thibodeau, highly decorated and well respected, I’m sure that’s the first step in the right direction. Front office, management has always been good. But those big dogs, that’s the kind of things that they talk about.”
SNY: Do you think Leon Rose can do well here?
“I said it when he first got the job; I seen him in Philly and I said, ‘You’ll do great things.’ And I know he will because of his personality, his demeanor and how he is charismatically with his players…. I think that will go through the organization pretty well and he has the personality to get through to guys.”
For more of our conversation with O’Quinn, check out the full episode in the above video.