My dad didn’t watch a lot of NBA games when I was a kid.
In Pittsburgh, Sundays are for God and the Steelers. From February to July, the Penguins and Pirates volley for the heart of the city, until a pack of buses arrive to Latrobe, Pa., and Steelers training camp begins.
I was from a town with such a deep sports history, but I was always enamored with the one league that didn’t set up shop there: the NBA. I never had a hometown team to cheer for, so I bounced from bandwagon to bandwagon, rooting for Jordan’s Bulls, Iverson’s Sixers, Kobe’s Lakers, Melo’s Nuggets, and so on. By the time I left Pittsburgh for Syracuse University, I gave up the search and turned my attention to SU hoops.
New York Knicks game aired on Syracuse cable, but I never caught on to the hype. I was excited for Carmelo Anthony to move to NYC during my junior year, but that couldn’t keep my interest beyond a month. When Linsanity was taking over New York the following winter, I had a hard time catching the fever.
I graduated and moved to Connecticut toward the end of that season, 2011-12, and every winter, I ignored that two NBA clubs were only an hour or so from my front door. It was a grim sight for both franchises, however. They both went from hyped contenders to laughing stocks.
The Knicks were falling apart. Lin was gone and Anthony was struggling. In 2015, they reached a new low in the franchise’s 69-year history with an abysmal 17-65 record. Meanwhile in Brooklyn, the Nets had mortgaged their future for a pair of aging stars— both of whom were gone by the end of the 2014-15 season.
If there was a light at the end of the tunnel for New York basketball, it would be a subway car, bowling toward it.
But something weird happened that summer. The Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis, a lanky, 7-foot-3 Latvian, who at one time in his life, inexplicably sported cornrows. The draft selection made a kid cry. By the end of 2015, though, that same kid was rocking a Porzingis jersey at Madison Square Garden.
The rookie could play, and opponents like Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki were throwing accolades at him like an arena vendor throws peanuts.
I was nearing four years of living in Connecticut and wanted to find something to make the region feel more like home. Then I sat down and Porzingis’ Knicks play.