Monday night at Madison Square Garden, Frank Ntilikina officially became a New Yorker, ceremoniously assuming his place as a New York Knick. It all happened in one intense, euphoric moment for the Garden crowd.
The 19-year-old rookie stood toe-to-toe, chest-to-chest with LeBron James, the world’s greatest basketball player and one of the best of all time, underneath the Cleveland Cavaliers’ basket with 40.2 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
After dunking, James impeded the 19-year-old rookie’s path to gather and inbound the ball. Ultimately, the 6-foot-5, 195-pound Ntilikina pushed the 6-foot-8, 250-pound James, which inspired Knicks fans into a frenzy as many cheered raucously for the youngster’s fearlessness. The noise level rose a few decibels when the Knicks’ 6-foot-11, 250-pound center Enes Kanter hurried to his teammate’s defense. Although the physical interaction was minimal, both Kanter and James were assessed technical fouls.
It was an emotional, seminal early season occasion for the Knicks and the NBA. It signaled that one of the league’s signature franchises, one that has been in the doldrums for the better part of the past two decades, has a new mindset, makeup and future. And, finally, so it seems by the early returns, a potential elite point-guard.
“That’s good. A young kid to stand up to the best player in the league,” said Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek after the game. “I was happy for Frank to get an opportunity to get out there and play and show him, yeah, you can say whatever you want, but I’m going to still be here and be here for many years. Then you had his teammates backing him up. So that was great.”
“It could have been anyone, so I just pushed him to get the ball in,” said Ntilikina, who was born in Belgium to Rwandan parents before moving to France with his family as a 3-year-old. “He was in my way. It could have been anyone.”
Ntilikina’s attitude is one that reflects his maturity and poise. Thus far, he has been unfazed by the excessive scrutiny and pressure of playing in New York.
Despite blowing a 23-point lead and losing to the Cavaliers by 104-101, the Knicks were a highly surprising