New York City is buzzing about the Knicks again, thanks in no small part to the team's tallest player.
Kristaps Porzingis, the 22-year-old forward from Latvia, has become the new face of the franchise and he is running with it. At 7-foot-3, he towers above most of the NBA and plays the game of basketball with a finesse that defies conventional wisdom about players that height.
“There’s nothing like him. He’s so unique,” said Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Hall of Fame point guard and longtime Knicks game analyst for MSG Network. “[He’s] 7-3 with that agility, mobility, hostility ... very precocious coming in at a young age handling the biggest spotlight there is: New York City.”
Porzingis has earned several nicknames since debuting for the Knicks in 2015: KP, Three 6 Latvia and Godzingis, to name a few. But one has resonated the most with the masses.
“You mean the Unicorn?” said 29-year-old Canarsie resident Shari McNeal, when asked about the Knicks star. “He’s magical.”
The Knicks’ relative on-court success with Porzingis as the centerpiece, after several years of disappointing play, coincides with the offseason departures of two key figures. Team president Phil Jackson, the Hall of Fame coach who drafted the star forward two years ago, was let go in June. Carmelo Anthony, the former face of the Knicks, was traded away in September.
Although the Knicks’ 7-7 record is identical to last year at this point, there’s an aura of optimism surrounding the team that’s been missing in past years. Frazier, who helped lead the franchise to its only two NBA titles in the 1970s, can feel a difference.
“I’m percolating coming to the games now,” Frazier said. “I look forward to coming early.”
Through Wednesday, Porzingis ranked third in scoring (28.9 points per game) and fourth in blocks (2.2 per game). He’s making 40 percent of his 3-point attempts, a feat only four 7-footers ever have accomplished over a full season.
Upper East Side resident Howie Starer, 23, believes Porzingis has benefited from Melo’s departure.
“He’s a good team leader,” Starer said. “He’s the real deal. I guess Phil Jackson knows what he’s doing.”
Porzingis’ No. 6 jersey is flying off physical and virtual shelves. According to the NBA, Porzingis ranks in the top five of league-wide jersey sales on NBAStore.com. Fanatics, which operates the site in addition to the flagship NBA Store on Fifth Avenue, said sales of Porzingis merchandise have “seen a triple digit percentage increase over the past two weeks compared to the previous two weeks.”
Mike Rodriguez, 25, a manager at Modell’s in Times Square, said Porzingis jerseys have been a big seller among both tourists and locals.
“It’s doubled the sales ... from last year,” Rodriguez said.
There are a lot of games left this season, but Frazier believes qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2013 “would be a big deal” and that the Knicks still must add or develop players to return to title contention. The last time they reached the NBA Finals was in 1999, and their last championship came in 1973.
Longtime fans like Elliot Pothorzer, 66, of Prospect Heights, are just pumped to watch Porzingis and the Knicks play.
“I think he’s the [Knicks’] most exciting player in the last 20 years,” he said. “I’m really as excited as I was when the team first got good in the ’60s, and a large part of that is Porzingis.”