A groundswell of obsession has emerged from the depths of New York City. Breaking through a Latvian-engineered tunnel underneath Madison Square Garden, endearment for what's emerged from the darkness -- a 7-foot-3-inch rookie with futuristic basketball skills -- has become contagious. Despite landing covers on all the New York tabloids, the boy remains an engima to most. We will explain.
We Have to Start with the Cornrows
As a preteen, Kristaps Porzingis tied his long hair into cornrows and stared, dead-eyed, into photographs, creating his own "Straight Outta Latvia" look. The emerging legend of the New York Knicks rookie is very much rooted in those three years he had cornrows, because it projects a strong sense of self-identity, and New Yorkers love a strong sense of self-identity. Yes, a skinny white Eastern European kid wearing cornrows is a little odd, but Knicks fans -- well, first of all they find the picture above hilarious, but it's also proof that Porzingis is the one.
Boldness and a thick skin are needed to succeed in New York, and this guy's always had those traits. Again, just look at the cornrows.
Oh, and the ladies apparently loved it, too.
Though he grew up all the way over in the breezy coastal city of Liepāja, Latvia, Kristaps isn't your typical Eastern European basketball player. He took to the NBA culture of the early to mid-2000s, when Allen Iverson and many other black players sported the cornrows also prevalent in hip-hop culture. Porzingis has said that he was a fan of his now teammate Carmelo Anthony's own cornrows as a youngster, so it's not hard to see where his hairstyle inspiration came from.
This month, Porzingis and all of his three-point slinging, tough rebounding, stretch-five play have brought genuine joy to a fanbase that's been depressingly numb and actively not fun in the years since they traded for Anthony and the championship expectations that come with such an acquisition in 2011. To put it bluntly, the Melo era has sort of sucked. He'll be 32 years old by this season's end, and Porzingis' game, fitting with the fast-paced, everyone-can-shoot-a-three-pointer style the NBA's evolving into, is giving Knicks fans a peek into the future beyond Anthony.
There is, however, a sad history of Knicks fans overhyping new players, predictably leading to their oblivion out of New York. That Jeremy Lin guy came and went as quickly as your local (likely now closed) frozen yogurt shop. Landry Fields was once hailed as the next John Havlicek, which in retrospect, is like saying the west side's ballyhooed new 7 line subway station would actually be useful. Iman Shumpert, touted as a budding All-Star in 2013, fell short of those optimistic expectations, just like your Duane Reade sushi lunch. In earnest, Knicks fans have gone ahead and divinely anointed Porzingis as "Godzingis," a name that he may, just may, really deserve.
Porzingis' Draft Night Sucked, But It Also Galvanized Him
In Porzingis, the Knicks have a player who does not suck, even if their own fans tacitly wished for him to be a bust. (Knicks fans enjoy emotions like anger and sadness -- hedonistic goals somehow aligned with straight-up sports masochism.) Picked fourth overall in June's NBA Draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, territorial fans mercilessly booed the little-known Latvian as he was introduced. The entire event even made this kid cry:
The frustration of Knicks fans was understandable -- called for, even. Coming off of losing a franchise-record 65 games last season, getting screwed in the lottery and winding up with the fourth pick in what was perceived to be a three-player draft (can't-miss talents Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor were all drafted ahead of Porzingis) felt like an even bigger loss.
Team vice president Phil Jackson was prepared to trade the fourth pick, but after the Charlotte Hornets pulled out of a multi-team deal, the Knicks begrudgingly took the "upside project" of the draft. The optics for Porzingis couldn't have been worse. Already faced with league-wide stigma surrounding European players -- they're too soft, they don't work as hard -- Porzingis' beanpole frame, coupled with Anthony's reported demands for an "NBA-ready" pick, seemed to set him up for obvious failure. These are the Knicks, after all. They tend to break nice things. Thankfully, Jackson kept the pick and halfheartedly selected the most talented, but most unwanted player available.
The boos didn't bother Porzingis. “I didn’t get pissed when I was booed on draft night. I was ready for it," he told Vice Sports, while also adding, “If I don’t take a shot, that’s when somebody can get mad at me.” His inherent, bull-by-the-horns confidence was a quiet sign that he's ready for New York.
When Pessimism Becomes Optimism Becomes Obsession
In less than three weeks, Knicks fans have gone from expecting Porzingis to be another Euro-bust mucking up Madison Square Garden, to being pleasantly surprised by the rookie's competency and immediate NBA capability, to being stricken with a full-blown bout of PORZINGIS FEVER, which is medically known as ZINGSANITY:
The Zingsanity strain mutated into existence after Porzingis scored a career-high 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Tuesday's win over the Hornets. He got the "honor" of being interviewed first postgame, giving humble team-first quotes that MSG practically bathed in. (The white-collar Knicks fans who now attend pricey games love good ol' blue-collar talk from players who pretend to care about the team first and foremost.)
Porzingis is legit. He probably would've been drafted higher had he played a year of college basketball instead of sticking out his professional European career, and Knicks fans have exacerbated the hype by making and sharing Vines and GIFs out of every bright nuance of his game, especially the least expected ones. For example, importing a vicious put-back dunk through traffic onto their Facebook timeline is necessary:
As is his perfect execution of the "Dream Shake":
But hell, why not highlight how he catches the ball too? It's just as sick, really.
Simple lay-ups via Anthony's handiwork need to be shared as well. The Knicks' franchise player has been waiting for four years for a bonafide running mate, and here he is, cutting into open space created by Anthony's drive:
And again, with Anthony double-covered, Porzingis stepped up at the end of a road game against the Hornets, knocking down a game-winning three-pointer with 0.1 seconds left. That is, until replay revealed that he didn't get the shot off in time. Oh well.
In any case, Porzingis demonstrated the cutting-edge and dogged desire to take the big shot and effortlessly sink it. With his teammates mobbing him at mid-court, Porzingis had an unimpressed look on his face. Of course I can make that shot. What's the big deal? At 20 years old, he did that in his ninth NBA game.
Tangibly, Knicks fans have responded by directly rushing from social media to the NBA's online retail shop. A 12-game body of work is apparently enough to make this happen. This is because Knicks fans are a little crazy, yes, but also because Knicks fans have passion, which translates into excercising their disposible income for Porzingis jerseys even as the majority of the population struggles to make ends meet.
Buyer beware: Obsession can revert to pessimism as quickly as you can blurt "Linsanity," but for now, screw it: The legend of the Zinger is ours, Knicks fans.
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