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CHICAGO — Kristaps Porzingis, a big kid in the big city, has no interest in the New York nightlife. He’s only 20, he doesn’t drink and his singular focus is basketball.
But it also helps that the Latvian forward has had his family with him in New York to guide him and make sure he’s safe. Porzingis’ brothers and parents live with him in Westchester County. His parents went back to Latvia for a while but returned to New York.
“It’s always good to have support around, especially as young as I am and in New York and a lot of attention,” Porzingis said Friday before the Knicks’ game against the Bulls. “For one part, my family’s around just to make sure I’m doing the right thing, I’m staying out of trouble, I’m focused on basketball. For me, it’s great to have the family around.”
The night scene for Porzingis is dinner with family and friends after Knicks games. But with two young players being robbed after nights on the town, it’s been a rough two weeks for the Knicks.
Backup forward Derrick Williams, 24, allegedly had more than $650,000 in jewelry stolen from his apartment after he brought home two girls he met at a club following a night out with friends.
Then, early Wednesday morning, second-year forward Cleanthony Early, 24, was robbed and shot in the right knee after a late night at a Queens strip club. Three cars boxed in the Uber car that Early was in with his girlfriend.
“It’s sad that things like that happen,” Porzingis said. “That just shows once again how careful you have to be in those situations.”
Porzingis is old enough to drink in Latvia, where the legal age is 18, but he says he doesn’t. In the summer, he attended the NBA’s rookie orientation program and heard guest speakers discuss their experiences. He believes it prepared him for life in New York and in the NBA.
“A lot of good information in the rookie transition program,” Porzingis said. “Obviously, the rookie transition program won’t save you from those situations, but it can tell you how to react in those situations and a lot of good information for us to be careful and to know what’s coming.
“They give us information about guns and when you’re going out how you should react whenever somebody’s trying to provoke and situations like that. A lot of interesting people . . . told us their stories. It was a lot of fun and at the same time stuff to think about.”
After what happened to Early, Knicks general manager Steve Mills and coach Derek Fisher addressed the players Wednesday to talk about being vigilant and careful and stressed that their well-being is more important than basketball.
The Knicks spent New Year’s Eve in Chicago. Fisher said the players weren’t given any instructions on what they could and couldn’t do.
“Guys are adults,” Fisher said. “We had some conversation just in general, just about the climate that we’re in. Guys still made decisions that they saw fit. Everybody is here this morning with no issues.”
Fisher, who played 18 seasons in the NBA, said he wants to be able to help his players through off-the-court situations.
“All of our experiences kind of help to inform us of possibly how to help others,” he said. “That’s one of the top reasons that I accepted the job is that I believe that’s a part of my responsibility. So I take it seriously. That applies on and off the court, where I can be helpful to guys in terms of conversations, wisdom and shared experiences.”