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The Kristaps Porzingis Experience, Or Letting Go On Draft Night | ES | Translation

Trying to follow the draft was a painful experience for Knicks fans.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I feel you, Facepalming Knicks Kid. Really, I do.

This has nothing to do with Kristaps Porzingis, the 19-year-old Latvian whose selection with the fourth overall pick Facepalming Knicks Kid was reacting to. I don't know any more about Porzingis than FKK does. Mostly I get that kid's too-perfect meme-ready reaction because the week leading up to the NBA draft was exhausting, and not at all fun.

In theory, this was supposed to be fun. For fans of crappy teams, Draft Day should feel like Christmas, a chance to unwrap a prospective reward for all the losing and the lost seasons, a player still in that perfect and unsullied state that is only possible before the wear of actual games takes off the shine.


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For the Knicks, it would be a particularly delicious recompense, the team's first top-four pick since Patrick Ewing in 1985. So down the rabbit hole I went, devouring everything that Sources Say, the contradictory agent-fed hints regarding where Team X a slot or two above New York was leaning, watching grainy YouTube mix tapes set to b-grade hip hop beats. I hit refresh on Draft Express hoping for a quick hit of an updated mock drafts—ESPN's Chad Ford cranked out no less than four Thursday afternoon—looking for… something, a reason or a kernel of truth or something to worry about.

I was gulping down content like Homer Simpson in Hell, getting pumped with donuts and still falling happily short of satiation. If I kept searching, there would be some factoid, some tidbit of insider-y chattering that would get me where I wanted to be.

It helped (a little) that Knicks fans weren't the only ones in a pit of despair. Madison Square Garden hasn't cornered the market on NBA dysfunction; a glance at the sub-House of Cards machinations in Sacramento proves this. After years of Kremlin-like silence from 1 Penn Plaza, there was as at least now something to parse: the cryptic, often-contradictory musings of Phil Jackson. "Well, there can be surprises," Jackson said before the draft, "all the way from 6-foot to 7-foot that would be major surprise." I tried to make sense of that, and his truly weird defense of the long-forgotten term "goink" and his repeated insistence that he, at least, thought he did a great job in his first season. Shot through all this was the sense that the major motivating force behind Phil Jackson's administration was a Boomer-ish quest for vindication: a seething desire to prove that he was not only right, but that correctly running a series of off-the-ball cuts was truth and beauty exemplified, and might even save America.


"The game actually has some beauty to it, and we've kind of taken some of that out of it to make it individualized," Jackson told Howard Beck. "It's a lot of who we are as a country, individualized stuff." Say what you want about Sam Hinkie, but I doubt he's saddled with the delusion of grandeur to think that his slavish dedication to The Process is somehow the key to enlightenment.

And the overwhelming sensation was one of all-consuming dread; a pervasive belief that this inevitably would go horribly, crushingly wrong.

Porzingis throwing out the first pitch at a recent Mets game. He does not yet need Tommy John surgery. Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Rock bottom arrived on Thursday afternoon. The story, then, was that Jackson was so smitten with Frank Kaminsky that he'd buck conventional wisdom and take him at four. It drove nominally objective journalists to tears, coerced threats of transmogrification into mystical beasts, and so tickled ESPN's Jay Williams that he blurted out, "Did you say fourth?" in a tone suggesting that he'd just been told there was a unicorn farting money down the block. Knicks twitter, as it does, spiraled into overwhelming despair.

I can tell you the moment I let go. It was when I met some friends at a sports bar in Manhattan, and found that the bar was a sports hoarder's version of Mr. Magorium's Emporium. Every available inch of real estate was jam-packed, Chotchkie's-style, with sports memorabilia. Hundreds of autographed baseballs. A torrential downpour of game worn jerseys dangling from the rafters. A burger named after Sean Casey. Bat Day mini-bats as doorknobs. Bathrooms plastered with tabloid back pages, featuring all of the New York sports lowlights like Isiah Thomas's actual crimes and Anna Benson's sultry take on Ms. Claus. It was ridiculous, all of it, kind of like the inside of my draft-obsessed mind. I settled in, turned off the phone, and smiled..

The draft went more or less as expected. I cursed the Lakers for snagging D'Angelo Russell and giddily cheered when the Knicks extracted an extra first-round pick for Tim Hardaway Jr. I like that I get to root for a Dolph Lundgren-ish 7-3 gym rat that can shoot the lights out, logs on to WorldStarHipHop for his daily dose of U.S. Culture, and has busted out a Latvian remix of "Riding Dirty." I dig the idea that all Jackson's arch philosophical posturing is just that, and that when it comes down to it, he'll make a logical, if risky choice. But of course I don't really know what I'm talking about.

And even nestled deep inside NBA Draft 2015's blaring commerce, there was some joy to be found. Jerian Grant celebrating with his dad and his uncle, both former NBA players themselves. Willy Hernangomez doing the same. Most happily, there's the realization that no one, not the experts, the insta-draft graders, and surely not the pitchfork-wielding hordes at Barclays Center knows who'll succeed or fail or what is to come.

We're all offering varying degrees of educated guess. We are not our team's executives, which is fine. We can just watch, wait, and enjoy the ride.