Long removed from their time in the Big Apple, former NBA New Yorkers like Nate Robinson and Metta World Peace, among others, reflect on their time in the big city.
There is a special kind of aura that surrounds New York City. It’s a one of a kind place that people all over the world travel to see. But for basketball fans, it holds even more significance. New York City has long been referred to as the “Mecca of Basketball.”
And rightfully so. There is enough basketball history in this city to make it culturally significant in its own right, a point I touched on last week. But when it comes to professional athletes, New York does something different to them altogether.
Players love coming to New York, they love the lifestyle of the big city, and they love playing for the unique fans that pour into Madison Square Garden and the Barclay’s Center. What is even more remarkable, or maybe even perplexing, is how New York remains a prominent basketball city despite that fact that none of its NBA teams have won a championship since 1973.
BIG3 rolled into Chicago last week and on behalf of Elite Sports NY, I was fortunate enough to be on the ground to cover it. One of the most interesting things about the BIG3 roster this season is just how many players have ties to New York.
Some were happy to discuss their time in the Big Apple, others were too frustrated from their games that they threw garbage pails down the tunnel (I’m looking at you Al Harrington).
You probably remember Nate Robinson, but most likely don’t remember Qyntel Woods. Those two, among others, reflected about their experiences in the Big Apple.
It’s been almost a decade since Nate Robinson’s enthusiasm and energy lit up the Garden. His game-winner in the face of Allen Iverson remains one of the most iconic New York Knicks moments of the 2000s (probably because the mid to late 200s were a black hole for Knicks fans).
After being drafted 21st overall by the Phoenix Suns in 2005, Robinson’s rights were shipped to New York along with Quentin Richardson in exchange for Kurt Thomas and the draft rights to Dijon Thompson.
Three slam-dunk contest victories and one falling out with Mike D’Antoni later, the Seattle native found his time in New York cut short. Robinson was packaged in a deal to the Boston Celtics that effectively sealed his fate as a journeyman. Here’s what he had to say about his time in New York:
“My time was great, honestly man. It’s been a long time, but the Garden was unbelievable,” Robinson told Elite Sports NY. “And, you know, they gave me so much love and their respect. In the Garden, because it’s hard to earn the fans’ respect when you come in and play. Maybe you see it every draft. They boo every person they draft. They even booed me. They didn’t even know. They was like ‘boo…who’s Nate Robinson?’ And then when they got an opportunity to see who I was, when I played, they fell in love with me. And that’s something I do respect about them. You know you gotta show what you can do playing in New York and I miss it.”
Metta World Peace
It’s always a beautiful thing when a player gets to come home and play for the franchise he grew up watching. Metta World Peace, formerly Ron Artest, was born and raised in Queens, New York. A former NBA All-Star and defensive player of the year, World Peace starred for LaSalle Academy in Manhattan and played on AAU team with future NBA Players Elton Brand and Lamar Odom.
In a move that solidified him as a hometown hero, World Peace opted to play his college ball at St. John’s University in New York City. His legend only expanded when he led the Red Storm to the Elite Eight in 1999.
World Peace went on to have a successful, but controversial career in the NBA. It was a career that saw high points like winning the NBA Finals as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010 and low points such as the infamous “Malice at the Palace.” However, in 2013, World Peace received an opportunity that he simply could not pass up – the chance to play for the Knicks. Although his time in New York ended up being brief (the Knicks ended up buying him out midseason), here’s what he had to say about that time of his career:
“It’s amazing. I’m from New York and I always wanted to play for the Knicks. That’s the main thing,” World Peace said to Elite Sports NY. “I had the chance to play for San Antonio at that time and I had the chance to go to OKC, but I wanted to play in New York because it was just like, you know, a dream. And if I had never put on the New York jersey – Knick uniform on – it would have been kind of hurtful. So, I was able to do that, and I wanted to win a championship so bad. That year I was very emotional because I always wanted to win a title there. So, I had a lot of emotional moments, but it was great. Love New York.”
Qyntel Woods was the “blink and you’ll miss him” kind of player. He never found the NBA success he desired, but New York afforded him one of the better opportunities of his career. Despite being the 21st overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, Woods failed to keep his head above water at the NBA level. He joined the Knicks in 2005 after being waived by the Boston Celtics.
His fourth and final year in the NBA would prove to be his most productive. Under Larry Brown, Woods started 16 games and posted career highs in minutes per game, points per game, rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage. The Knicks decided against bringing him back the following season and Woods would play in another NBA game. Here are his thoughts on his time in the Big Apple:
“It was the greatest time I had in the NBA,” Woods told Elite Sports NY. “That was the best season, the most playing the time, the best I ever played. So, I love New York. It was, for me, the best playing position that I played because I was in the NBA.”
After spending time with six different franchises through the first decade of his NBA career, fate brought Reggie Evans to New York City. In 2012, the Pensacola, Florida native became a Brooklyn Net by way of a sign and trade. A positive to his time in Brooklyn? Evans notched double-digit rebounds in a season for the second time in his career.
A negative? Evans became the first NBA player fined for flopping during a matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012. Less than two years after arriving in Brooklyn, the Nets would jettison Evans to Sacramento, where he spent the final season of his NBA career. Here’s how reflected on his time in Brooklyn:
“Oh man, I had a good ass time. You know what I’m saying,” Evans said to Elite Sports NY. “I just hate that I had to get traded, but I know that’s business. You can’t do nothing about it. But, I really did have a good time. You know my family had a good time. I wish I could have stayed a little longer, but that’s how the business was.”
New York is like no other place on earth. Any athlete that’s played here knows the highs and lows. Play well and be treated like a king. Play poorly and be almost run out of town. The aforementioned players are no different, but there seems to be a common theme – players love New York.