Latvian Knicks Player Dominates on the Court

April Issue: Global Edition

At 7’3”, 240 lb, and only 20 years old, Kristaps Porzingis has drawn much attention to his rookie season in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Porzingis is originally from Liepaja, Latvia, and has been involved with basketball nearly his whole life.

Basketball has been a part of his family for generations, which is what led to his initial interest in the sport. Porzingis began playing basketball at age six and seemed to be following in his family’s footsteps. Both of his parents had experience with the sport; his father competed at a semi-professional level, and his mother had been on the Latvian Women’s Youth National Basketball Team.

In addition to his parents, both of his older siblings played. However, Porzingis was especially influenced by his older brother, Janis.

Janis Porzingis is a former professional basketball player in Latvia. Throughout a 14-year career he has played for 15 different teams in multiple European leagues. After retiring in 2015, he became his younger brother’s agent. He is known to have impacted his brother both on and off the court. In an interview Porzingis commented about his relationship with his older brother: “We’d break down the details. We watched the film together. He’s always pushing me to work hard. We just spend a lot of time together and we just talk about basketball all the time.”

Porzingis started out his career when he was very young. When he turned 12 years old, Janis, who at the time was playing professionally in Europe, would take him to offseason training sessions. He played with BK Liepajas Lauvas, the most famous club team in his hometown, until he was 15 years old. An agent from Latvia sent video of him around this time to teams in Spain and Italy, and in 2010, Baloncesto Sevilla, a club that had a professional team competing in the Liga ACB in Spain, called Porzingis for a tryout. He later received a contract in summer 2010 and signed it. He debuted for the youth squad in early 2012, but was more effective in his second year. Per game in 2013, he averaged 16.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks and .481 on three-pointers. That year was his final time involved in youth basketball.

In April 2014, Porzingis was declared eligible for the 2014 NBA Draft. He was considered a top-15 draft pick and had drawn interest from NBA teams including Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder. Of the top-100 rankings, he was the fourth-youngest prospect. However, soon before the draft, he withdrew his name and his agent Andy Miller released information to ESPN, saying that Porzingis was not prepared to become a part of the NBA and wanted to wait until the 2015 draft. One of the league’s managers adds, “He wasn’t ready, but we would’ve seriously considered drafting him anyway. If he continues to develop his game, get more minutes and his body develops, I think he could be a top-five pick in 2015. He has that kind of talent.”

Again, in April 2015, Porzingis entered the 2015 NBA Draft and was a lottery and potential top-5 pick. In June, 2015, Porzingis was selected with the fourth overall pick in the draft by the New York Knicks. Porzingis became the highest drafted Latvian and Baltic player in NBA history. Jayna Jones ’17 commented, “It’s really cool to see someone from a different country come into the NBA and be as good as he is, despite the transition.” This year, over the course of 62 games, the he is averaging 14.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.

Jeffrey McAbee ’18 adds, “In my opinion, he is one of the best centers in the league and is a great attribute to the Knicks. He’s really taken the league by shock.” Porzingis, has been questioned over whether “he had game, heart, and was coachable.” Throughout this season, Porzingis has proven that he is all these things and more. Donald Morton, upper school history teacher remarked, “He’s really good – he’s going to be the next Dirk Nowitzki.” He is also great with the media, courteous toward fans, and modest about being fourth overall pick. The NBA and fans all around look forward to seeing what comes next for #6 of the Knicks.