Steve Fields was careful not to push basketball on his kids. Just because playing in the NBA had been his dream didn't mean it had to be theirs.
Still, every time Fields turns on the television in his Long Beach, Calif., home and sees his youngest son, Knicks rookie Landry Fields, in the starting lineup, it's hard for him not to marvel at how it has all turned out.
"I don't know if it's fate or if it's destiny," the father said. "What I do know is that Landry has worked really, really hard."
Thirty-five years ago, Steve was on the precipice of living the life Landry is now living. An athletic wing fresh off rewriting the record books at Miami of Ohio, Steve was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in the seventh round of the 1975 draft. After hanging tough through a few cuts, he thought he might squeeze on to the Portland bench. But then second-year coach Lenny Wilkens opted to go with a group of veterans instead.
Fields never hooked up with another NBA team. He bounced around from an ABA expansion team called the Baltimore Claws that folded before ever playing a game to a semipro basketball league playing outside of Seattle. Eventually, he moved to Los Angeles where he met his wife, Janice, a former community college basketball player. The two worked hard - they both have jobs in sales for an optical wear company - had three kids and bought a nice house with a basketball hoop in the yard.
Steve knew that his son was serious about doing what it took to become a player when Landry taped a poster to the back of his bedroom door in sixth grade. It wasn't a poster of Kobe Bryant, then a young star with the Lakers. Nor was it the basketball schedule of his AAU team. Instead, it was a chart of what classes he was going to need to take in order to get into various colleges in California.
"Basketball was always something I wanted to do," Landry Fields said. "But if it didn't work out, I knew I had to do something. That's why I went to Stanford. I thought no matter what, it would pay off."
It has paid off in a way few could have imagined. Fields, a 6-7 swingman who led the Pac-10 in scoring and rebounding last season, was taken by the Knicks in the second round with the 39th overall pick in the June draft. He is one of six rookies who are starting regularly for an NBA team this season. The other five - Washington's John Wall, Philadelphia's Evan Turner, Minnesota's Wesley Johnson, Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins and the Clippers' Eric Bledsoe - were all picked long before him in the first round of the 2010 draft.
Though the Knicks have struggled as a team and Fields has gone through some rookie growing pains getting used to the spacing in the Knicks' offense, he averaged 9.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in his first 10 games. Entering last night's game at Denver, Fields' 66.7 two-point shooting percent was tops in the league among qualifying players. Overall, Fields is shooting 57.1 percent, which is 10th best in the league.
Fields had a career-high 21 points and 17 rebounds in Tuesday night's 120-118 loss in Denver.
So why was a guy who can score with this kind of efficiency still around when it came time for the Knicks to use the No. 39 pick? It's not because teams didn't know about him. Fields had worked out for 15 teams before the draft while taking an online course so that he could get his degree.
"The only reason anyone could tell me is because the Pac-10 was down," Knicks president Donnie Walsh said.
Walsh, who had missed Fields' workout because he was recovering from surgery, reviewed the tape of Fields as the Knicks entered the second round on draft night.
"I'm watching the film and I'm reading about a 39-inch vertical and an average of 22 points per game," Walsh said. "The kid went to Stanford, so we know he's smart. The only problem I saw is that I didn't think he would be there when it came time for us."
Fields, who had not spent much time away from the West Coast, was surprised and thrilled to be taken by the Knicks. His family prepared him for life in the East by e-mailing him pictures they found of New York during last winter's blizzard and making him a tape of "All in the Family," which took place in Queens.
Though he hates the traffic in New York - somehow he finds it worse than the traffic in Los Angeles - and the fact that he has to pay $30 to park somewhere for half an hour, Fields has loved life as a Knick.
And his father, for one, couldn't be more thrilled to see his son get the chance he never got.
"Very few get an opportunity like this,'' Steve Fields said. "It takes a lot of good karma. But it also takes a lot of hard work, and Landry has put in the work. We all feel very blessed."