During a heated matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and the New York Knicks on Feb. 6, tragedy struck yet again for the Knicks.
Knicks power forward Kristaps Porzingis beat Bucks defender Giannis Antetokounmpo off the pick and roll, allowing him to come soaring in for the slam. Regardless of this perfect setup for Porzingis, Antetokounmpo’s momentum carried him into Porzingis, altering his landing and causing Porzingis to come down awkwardly on his knee.
Porzingis cried out in agony as everyone in the crowd at Madison Square Garden held their breath. An MRI would later reveal what was dreaded—an ACL tear. An injury of this caliber takes the average National Basketball Association player approximately 10-12 months to fully recover from and then return to playing shape.
Chief of sports medicine at New York University’s Langone Medical Center Dr. Laith Jazrawi believes there is hope for an earlier return. Jazrawi stated that “it’s ‘not unreasonable’ Porzingis could be back in seven months but believes the Knicks will be more conservative to give the quadriceps muscles extra time to strengthen and prevent a recurrence,” the New York Post reported.
A significant part of what captivates Knicks fans with Porzingis is his consistent positive attitude when the going gets rough. Prior to the injury, Porzingis was less than two weeks away from appearing in his first NBA All-Star game. Porzingis was also enjoying a career-high season—having taken over the reins from small forward Carmelo Anthony after he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder—averaging 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds on 44 percent shooting and over 39 percent from 3-point range.
Porzingis received no lack of support from his fellow stars around the league. When asked about the matter, point guard Kyrie Irving of the rival Boston Celtics got personal with the situation, as he experienced his own knee surgery in 2016.
“It’s one thing that absolutely sucks—in sports and life sometimes—is going through injuries. So I’m sending my well wishes to him. And great energy. That dude is so freakin’ talented. It’s tough, man. It’s tough,” Irving said, according to ESPN.
Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, who was selected three picks ahead of Porzingis in the 2015 NBA Draft, also described feeling traumatized by the news.
“I was in my room when it happened and I immediately texted him … I tried to call him. Obviously he was busy. But I was hurting for him. That’s like my brother. Just to see him go through something like that is obviously very traumatic,” Towns said, according to ESPN.
Although this is a setback for the Knicks, who will now see their rebuilding prolonged, Porzingis is a player who is familiar with adversity. At 16 years old, he began playing professionally for Baloncesto Sevilla in Spain, and his life has revolved around basketball ever since.
Being selected in the NBA lottery puts enormous pressure on athletes to perform and be an impact player. Porzingis was selected fourth overall, was booed at the NBA Draft, and even left young fans in tears with the Knicks’ selection. Porzingis ignored the criticism, and put together a pair of seasons that put critics to rest.
Even with his season cut short, Porzingis displayed the championship potential that has eluded Knick fans since the ‘80s and ‘90s with star center Patrick Ewing. Down but not out, Porzingis still remains a beacon of hope for a franchise that has been in the dark for almost two decades.