It’s been 45 excruciatingly long years since the New York Knickerbockers won an NBA championship. But the team’s 19-year-old, soft-spoken rookie believes a Larry O’Brien Trophy is on the horizon.
“I feel like that’s something we can definitely do in the next five years,” Kevin Knox tells us.
It’s the kind of bold proclamation Knicks fans toss around in bodegas and barbershops around the city, perhaps out of delusion, but mostly, out of hope and desperation. The Melo-Phil experiment yielded disastrous results. Linsanity only lasted a few weeks. The mere utterance of Isiah Thomas’ name induces the most traumatic, Eddy Curry-filled flashbacks of all.
The guard is changing in New York. It has to. Coach David Fizdale was “the smart” hire; defensive stalwart and second-year man Frank Ntilikina will get more reps in; Mitchell Robinson might be the second round steal of the 2018 Draft; Tim Hardaway Jr. is still young and developing; OG unicorn Kristaps Porzingis will heal his torn ACL this season, allowing the team to properly tank and the young dudes to shine. Of course, management selected Knox whose 21.3 ppg and 6.5 rpg averages earned him All-Summer League honors.
To fan the flames of excitement, we linked with Knox just days before his first preseason game. Promoting the launch of Subway’s new Chipotle Cheesesteak sammy, he chatted with Complex about the upcoming season, who he wants to see in Space Jam 2, his Fortnite obsession, where MJ ranks on his all-time list, and more.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Can you tell me a little bit about your partnership with Subway?
We’re actually launching a new sandwich, the chipotle cheesesteak. And there are all different ways you can customize it. You know at Subway you can create your own type of sandwich in 400 million different ways. So it’s pretty crazy. They also got a jalapeño wrap, a chipotle cheesesteak wrap. So just helping them launch those.
What’s your favorite?
I haven’t tried any of the new ones yet, but the jalapeño chicken sandwich one looks the best. My favorite Subway sandwiches are meatball and chipotle chicken.
What’s the coolest New York City experience you’ve had so far outside of basketball?
Prolly going to different places and restaurants around the city. I went to Rihanna’s Diamond Ball the other day.
"Of all time, my craziest fan experience was signing a little baby’s forehead, like a newborn baby. The parents came up to me, they wanted me to sign his forehead."
Oh nice! What was that like?
That was dope. So many celebrities there. Fashion icons. Movie actors, actresses. So being in New York, they kind of knew of my name, not too much. They kinda recognize me, so it was pretty crazy to shake their hands and talk to them a little bit.
Did you get to meet Rihanna?
Yeah, that was crazy. She’s mad chill. Cool people. She’s just fun, got a lot of great energy. All positive vibes.
Did she know who you were?
Nah. She will soon though [laughs].
Shifting gears a bit to the upcoming season, you already mentioned that one of your goals is to win the Rookie of the Year award. How about in the next five years? What do you envision for yourself and the team?
Oh, of course win a championship. I feel like that’s something we can definitely do in the next five years, especially with the direction we’re going. Free agency next year, the young guys we got and are developing each and every year. I feel like that’s something we’re gonna get in five years. Personally, I wanna be in an All-Star Game. Get All-NBA. I think that’s something the coaching staff can really help me do.
I’m sure you’ve met a lot of Knicks fans in the city. They can be pretty crazy. They’re upfront with you, they tell it like it is, they talk to you like they’ve known you for years. What’s the craziest fan interaction you’ve had, or wildest thing a fan has said to you?
Of all time, my craziest fan experience was signing a little baby’s forehead, like a newborn baby. The parents came up to me, they wanted me to sign his forehead.
Jesus, were you like, “Are you sure about this?”
I was with some of my other teammates, and we was just like, we don’t know if we should do it. I don’t know if you wanna do that on a newborn baby’s head. On its skin and all that. That’s kind of weird. I didn’t wanna do it cause I felt like I would get in trouble, but I mean hey, they gave me permission to. I didn’t press too hard. I did it lightly. It was still kinda weird. But it looked good when it came out.
Very reminiscent of Talladega Nights. If there’s one kind of message to Knicks fans who’ve been wanting a championship all these years, craving to be back in contention, what’s one message you’d give to them?
You see we got a new front office, we got a new head coach, we got new players. It’s gon’ take time. We’re developing now, we’re getting better every single day. Every year we’re gonna get better. Coach Fizdale is leading us the right way. General manager Scott Perry and Steve Mills are doing a great job bringing in players. It’s gonna take time. Just be patient. It’s been 50 years since the organization’s won a championship, but I feel like fans have a lot to be hype about. I feel like we’ll get a championship real soon.
You mentioned free agency, in recent weeks, there’s been all this talk about Kyrie and if he’ll end up in New York. Jimmy Butler has been in the news, mentioning the Knicks as a team he’d want to play for. Is that something you guys talk about amongst yourselves? Or you just let the noise happen around you?
You let the noise happen. That’s the general manager, head coach, and the president. That’s their job to bring in who they want. We just stick to playing basketball, and getting to bond with each other. Whoever we get, of course they’re part of the family now, so you gotta treat ‘em like family. Obviously, we would love to have anyone that’s a superstar, All-Star—whether that’s Kyrie or Jimmy or whoever—in our organization. Be able to help us win a championship.
My 13-year-old brother, who’s a huge Knicks fan, huge Kevin Knox fan, wanted me to ask you, if you weren’t playing basketball, what would you be doing?
Playing football, probably. I played football until my sophomore year of high school, then I stopped. I played quarterback, had a few offers from some D-I schools. I was a sophomore at the time and had some offers, so I obviously wanted to keep playing to get more offers and get interest from major schools. But I decided to play basketball instead. Football is my first love, though. It’s definitely something I could have done. Play college football, then play in the NFL.
What schools recruited you to play football?
Pittsburgh, Miami, Nebraska, FSU was looking at me. FAO, FIU.
I was half-expecting you to answer the question [of what you’d be doing, if not basketball] by saying a professional Fortnite player. I know you’re a huge Fortnite guy. Have you been able to keep playing? I know it’s a busier time for you now.
Oh yeah, we have a lot of free time to play. But I kind of took a break from it. I’m on 2K now. 2K19 came out. So just working on my MyPlayer, getting that up.
Do you play as yourself in NBA 2K19 a lot? Do you construct your MyPlayer after yourself?
No, I haven't played myself yet. That will either be really weird or totally surreal! But I do construct my MyPlayer after me—it's what I know.
Who’s the best 2K player you’ve played against in the NBA?
I’ll prolly give it to my boy Gary Trent. For the Portland Trail Blazers. Michael Porter. DeAndre Ayton.
Who’s the best Fortnite player in the league?
When I was playing a couple of months ago, when I was playing nonstop everyday, I was definitely up there. I was nice. DeAndre’s not too bad at it. Mikal Bridges not too bad at it. Wendell [Carter] is alright. Gary Trent is alright.
If you hit a big 3-pointer, get a big dunk, buzzer beater, would you ever whip out a Fortnite dance to celebrate?
I don’t know if I’d whip out a Fortnite dance, I don’t know about that. Not in the middle of a game.
"No, I haven't played myself yet. That will either be really weird or totally surreal! But I do construct my MyPlayer after me—it's what I know."
Not quite the etiquette?
Nah. I gotta think up some 3-point celebrations, but not Fortnite.
I saw you played Fortnite with Ninja. Could you hang with him?
Definitely! Ninja is a pretty cool dude. It seemed like he loved meeting all the athletes that were coming through that day too.
On IG and Twitter, you mentioned Gunna and Baby as some of your favorite rappers. On Complex, we recently produced a piece where we assembled our ultimate rap superteams from the different decades. Stemming from the idea of NBA superteams, pretty much putting out your five best MCs. If you had to give your superteam of rappers right now, who would be on that list?
Well, you gotta have Drake on there. Drake’s the G.O.A.T. [right now]. Gotta have Future, Future’s a G.O.A.T. too. Gunna, Lil Baby, and I’ll probably go with my last one… Future, Drake, Gunna, Lil Baby…[pause]...
Did I see you were a Cole guy?
Ah, I see a lot of people like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar. I like their music, but I’m not a huge fan like that. Like they’re not on my playlist. They’re big-time guys, but the others are my guys.
So maybe you’ve got more of a Mt. Rushmore than a superteam?
Yeah. I like Young Thug, but I don’t know if I want to give him my 5th spot though. I’m in between Young Thug, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, he’s another young rapper. Just not sure who I’d give that 5th spot to on my team.
Another question along similar lines, we just heard there was going to be a Space Jam 2, who are your picks for the Monstars roster? Which current NBA guys should they take their talents from?
KD, you gotta have. Anthony Davis. I need a big, big. I feel like Joel Embiid needs a spot on that team. My two-guard, I’mma go with Klay [Thompson] or [DeMar] DeRozan. I don’t really count James Harden as a two-guard. Then my point guard, I’d prolly have to go with [Steph] Curry. Or [Russell] Westbrook. Actually, I’mma go with Russ.
Russ is probably a better “evil” guy than Steph. But what about you? You don’t want to be in the movie?
Nah, I don’t wanna be in the movie.
I’m good, man. That’s not me. I’ll watch it, I’d like to watch.
I was hoping we could do a couple of rapid fire questions. So I’ll ask, you hit me with whatever comes off the top of your head. Keeping with movie theme, favorite movie?
Dang, I got some many. I’ll go with a sports movie, Remember The Titans.
I got no hidden talent. I don’t dance, I don’t sing. I hoop and play Fortnite and 2K, that’s it.
Best Halloween costume?
When I was a little kid, I dressed up as Allen Iverson. Headband with the braids.
Did the cornrows?
Did the cornrows, yeah it was pretty dope.
Best rapper of all time?
Either JAY-Z just cause he’s a G.O.A.T., you got 2Pac, Drake making his way up there, too.
Greatest basketball player of all time?
Me and Kevin Durant.
Where does Michael Jordan fall?
Kevin Durant first, then LeBron James, then Michael Jordan.
You’re at the top of all of them though, right?
Yeah, for sure.
Why [wear] No. 20?
I wanted to try something new. I’ve never worn it before. Nos. 5 and 23 were taken, those are kind of my first two primary choices. But 20 is a great number, Allan Houston wore it.
What kicks are you gonna be wearing on opening night?
When we play the Hawks, I’m tryna see if I can get some custom Puma [Clyde Court Disrupts]. I got three different colors now, still making a lot of different colorways. But they got a lot of great colorways coming out soon. So hopefully I get to rock some crazy ones. Prolly rock the orange ones you see on Instagram, Twitter.
What’s the thing that’s most pleasantly surprised you about being in the NBA so far (even though I know you haven’t played in any games yet)?
The free time we have is crazy. You workout in the morning from like 10 am to 12 pm, then you got the rest of the day to just chill. Go out and eat, see family, hang out with your friends, go back and get a second workout in. A lot of guys in the past have told me you get a lot of free time, but I finally got to realize it and experience it.