Danilo Gallinari of the New York Knicks falls to the...

Danilo Gallinari of the New York Knicks falls to the floor against the Los Angeles Clippers at Madison Square Garden. (Feb. 9, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

As Danilo Gallinari digested the reality of getting traded to Denver in the Carmelo Anthony deal, the 22-year-old reached out to one of his trusted friends - none other than former Mets general manager Omar Minaya.

"For us," Minaya said, "he's like family."

It may seem like an unusual pairing on paper - the Dominican-born, Queens-raised Minaya growing close to the Italian-born and bred Gallinari. But Minaya played professional baseball in Italy in the early 1980s and learned to speak fluent Italian, and he knew just how renowned Gallinari's father was as a professional basketball player in Italy.

So when Gallinari threw out the first pitch at Shea Stadium in 2008 after the Knicks drafted him that June, Minaya introduced himself to the young basketball player and his family and they quickly hit it off.

"He basically had nobody here, and I built a relationship with him and his mother and father," Minaya said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "We had a friendship. Basically, I let his mother know there's someone here for him."

In the last three years they've grown so close that Gallinari spent last Thanksgiving at Minaya's house, because Gallinari wanted to experience "an American Thanksgiving," Minaya said.

Then Minaya and his family took Gallinari and his family to Times Square this past New Year's Eve, standing on the corner of 45th and Broadway together watching the ball drop at midnight.

Gallinari also was Minaya's guest at several Mets games at Citi Field, and was a big fan of the cheeseburgers and shakes from Shake Shack. "I gave him the American experience," Minaya joked.

So it's really no surprise that Gallinari and Minaya connected by phone to discuss the trade, even though Minaya was with his family on vacation in the Caribbean.

Minaya said he relayed stories from his days as the general manager of the Mets and Expos, that there were times he didn't like giving up a young player but knew he had to in order to close a deal.

He also encouraged Gallinari to look at this trade as a positive. "He understands this is part of the business," Minaya said. "He hasn't been told where exactly he's going yet. He was waiting to hear from his agent."

Minaya has been following the trade talks and was hoping that the Knicks - the team Minaya grew up rooting for - could pull off the trade for Anthony without including Gallinari.

Now, amid reports that Denver is looking to trade Gallinari before tomorrow's trade deadline, Minaya is hoping the Nets swing a deal to keep him in the area. But Minaya told Gallinari by phone that wherever he goes, he would follow him. He doesn't, however, think this is it for Gallinari in a Knicks uniform.

"I think when it's all said and done," Minaya said, "we're going to see him back in New York someday."


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