Run DMC, 50 Cent, Notorious B.I.G, and Kristaps Porzingis are all millionaires who have called New York their home during their heyday. The latter entry on that list has a lot to prove in his early career, but much like his New York counterparts, Kristaps Porzingis hasn’t gotten this far on his own.
Born August 2, 1995, Kristaps Porzingis grew up in Liepāja, Latvia with a basketball in his hands as early as his first birthday. Mother Ingrīda, played and coached in national youth camps across Latvia, while father Talis played semi-professional basketball for the Soviet Union. Their love for the game translated into a marriage with three kids, all boys with Kristaps being the youngest.
The eldest son, Janis played professional ball across Europe before retiring to become the agent of baby brother Kristaps. The middle child, Martins, followed the lead of the older without much success, eventually settling into Kristap’s inner circle. They were three brothers with basketball dreams, but only one with basketball talent, that is if you consider size a talent.
By age 15, Kristaps was 6’8 and growing as he played for junior squads across Spain. Long, lanky, and lacking conditioning due to growing up with anemia, a respiratory condition that decreased his energy and stamina, the aspiring Latvian ballplayer faced an uphill battle. Thanks to the training regimen of Janis and a daily prescription of iron, Porzingis would fight off the stereotype of foreign players being soft and he got his big break in La Liga ACB, one of the top professional leagues outside the U.S.
Having grown to be 7’3 by 2012, Kristaps was indeed a unicorn on the court. He ran the floor like a wing, shot like a guard, and could defend using all of his 8-foot wingspan to his advantage.
Never putting up gaudy stats, Porzingis had all the ingredients to play in the NBA, sprinkled with a feathery outside touch. In 2014, he made himself eligible for the draft thinking he could draw interest as a lottery pick. However, under the new agency of Andy Miller, he decided to wait. Miller, conveniently enough, managed Kevin Garnett’s early career and could see that unlike Garnett, the Latvian 7 footer’s body hadn’t quite caught up to his skill. He was a skinny 210 pounds at the end of his 2014 season in La Liga ACB.
After a year of home-cooked meals by mom and dad, and the training from his older brothers, Porzingis flourished in 2015, being named the Eurocup Rising Star. He also garnered the attention of NBA scouts this time around, projecting to be a top-five pick in the draft. Despite being seen as an unknown commodity, Kristaps caught the attention of Knicks scouts as well as Momma Porzingis’ coaching idol, then President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson.
So when the Knicks had the fourth pick in the 2015 Draft, they looked no further than the Latvian power forward, much to the chagrin of Knicks fans. Taking the playful boos to heart, Porzingis vowed on draft night to turn those boos into cheers.
Much of the outside speculation behind the Porzingis selection was how he would fit on a team that runs the triangle playing alongside Carmelo Anthony. But in his first interview since selecting Porzingis, Jackson attributed the selection to the stable support system already in place for Porzingis. So strong that his entire family made the 4200 mile trip to the Big Apple to live with their 20-year-old basketball star.
With his Latvian family by his side, Porzingis launched himself into living rooms and social media feeds with his monster put back dunks and unfathomable crossovers courtesy of his fully developed 7’3 body. Porzingis made the first team All-Rookie averaging 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and blocking 1.9 shots per game, finishing in the top 10 in the NBA in that category.
For the Knicks, Porzingis was the apple of their eye, but it didn’t take long for Knicks management to find the weakness in the Porzingis- Carmelo Anthony duo. Porzingis and Anthony were as close as two players in two different phases of their career could be. Carmelo acted like another older Porzingis brother, showing his predecessor what it’s like to be a star in New York, with Porzingis soaking it all in, waiting for his time.
Porzingis continued to grow as a player, upping his scoring average, field goal percentage, and blocked shots per game. Meanwhile, Anthony declined on the court as he continued to age. His efficiency took a nose dive and so did his clout within the team. By season’s end, the Knicks had endured their fourth straight losing season, while going through three head coaches in the past two seasons.
Anthony, the $100 million dollar man, was the scapegoat, so much so that on television Phil Jackson said the Knicks would be better off without him. Seeing this, Porzingis was appalled at the lack of loyalty shown to his brother in arms Carmelo. Growing up, brotherhood and loyalty was all Porzingis had to go on.
With three sons, Porzingis father accepted there was only so much he could do. The brothers had to take care of each other. Talis instructed his older sons to watch after his youngest son Kristaps. Despite siblings and children of his own, Phil Jackson was somehow ignorant to the sensibilities of the modern day NBA player. It led to Porzingis walking out of exit meetings and into a vacation in Latvia to clear his head for the upcoming season.
Soon Porzingis would return to find that both Jackson and Anthony were gone. Porzingis wonderful summer playing with his Latvian brothers for the Eurobasket Tournament was a memory. The hardwork was just beginning.
Porzingis has to prove that he can be the man in the Big Apple. The Knicks have a difficult task too: to prove that the same stability present in the Kristaps family is present in their own front office family.
photo via llananba