Boos rained down on the Barclays Center when the New York Knicks used the fourth overall pick at last year’s draft on an unknown 19-year-old named Kristaps Porzingis.
But it hasn’t taken long for the lanky young Latvian to become the city’s favorite new athlete.
Averaging 14 points and 7.8 rebounds, with a penchant for put-back dunks and dream shakes, Porzingis is already much further along than anyone in the NBA could have expected back in June.
When you consider he started taking after-school English classes when he was 11 and studied obsessively the rhythms of NBA press conferences on YouTube not long after, that Porzingis has become a budding superstar feels less like a pleasant surprise than it does an inevitability.
In an excellent feature from SI’s Lee Jenkins this week, Porzingis revealed that he was only 11 when his older brother Janis started hounding him to learn English and take other steps to prepare for the NBA.
Jānis’ own basketball career had flamed out early because of injury, but he sensed from the time Kristaps was not even a teenager that he had a real shot to reach the highest level.
By the time Kristaps turned 11, Jānis joked about becoming his agent and enrolled him in after-school English classes. “Why am I doing this?” Kristaps moaned. Jānis, then 24, explained that he’d someday have to bond with Americans.
Janis not only made sure his younger brother knew English, but he also made sure that he was familiar with NBA press conferences. Their father pushed him too. Jenkins writes:
Kristaps deconstructed his own skills with his father, over Skype or FaceTime, the way Jānis once did. “My dad gave me a thousand pieces of advice,” Kristaps says. “Nine-hundred-ninety-nine about basketball and one about life. But that’s O.K.” He did not revolt when Jānis put him through 2½-hour shooting sessions and then made him study NBA press conferences. He had to prepare for everything.
This almost obsessive preparation has paid dividends early into Porzingis’ NBA career. The Knicks have already won more games this season than they did all of last year, and Porzingis – who speaks great English and appears at ease with the press – has won over the fickle New York City fan base.