NYPD detectives were hunting for a group of men who early Wednesday ambushed, robbed and shot Knicks forward Cleanthony Early after he left a Queens strip club, officials said.
According to police, Early, 24, who is playing in his second season with the Knicks, had left the Cityscapes Gentlemen’s Club at 55-61 58th St. in Maspeth, Queens, about 4:15 a.m. Early was with his girlfriend. Both were in an Uber cab when three other cars suddenly drove up and surrounded the leased vehicle in front of 64-70 Maurice Ave., about a mile away from the club
A group of as many as seven men, including one wearing a mask, jumped out of their vehicles, ordered Early, his girlfriend and the Uber driver out of their car and then robbed the 6-foot-8, 210-pound ballplayer at gunpoint, investigators said.
The assailant took from Early a small undetermined amount of cash; two yellow gold chains worth about $9,000; two cellphones, including a iPhone 6; and Early’s gold teeth caps before shooting him once in the right knee, a police spokeswoman said. The robbers also took the Uber driver’s identification, the spokeswoman said.
Early was wounded in the same knee to which the NBA said he had surgery in November 2014, after joining the team.
The crime scene is in an industrial section of Maspeth opposite Mount Zion Cemetery and down the street from private residences.
Police said Early initially was taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center and then transferred to NewYork–Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, where he was listed in stable condition. Officials at the hospital couldn’t be reached for comment.
Knicks coach Derek Fisher told reporters that while the team didn’t have much information, what was known led him to believe Early wasn’t in any life-threatening danger.
“But obviously, until you’re released from the hospital, I think we also have to be cautious,” Fisher said.
“We are aware of what occurred with Cleanthony Early this morning and are relieved that he is not in a life-threatening situation,” the team said in a statement. “We will not comment any further until we receive more information.”
Yahoo! Sports reported that Early has no structural damage in his knee, won’t require surgery and is expected to make a full recovery. The report also gave a 2-3 month timetable for his recovery.
Early tweeted Wednesday evening: “Thank you all for your Thoughts and Prayer I appreciate you all! Shout out to you beautiful souls for caring, God works in Mysterious way!”
Early, originally from the Bronx, was picked by the Knicks in the second round of the 2014 NBA draft and signed with the team in July 2014. Early starred at Wichita State University, where he led the school to an undefeated regular season and a 35-1 overall record.
Fisher said he and the team’s head of security addressed the players Wednesday morning.
“We talked to our guys about the situation to remind them of how serious this is,” Fisher said. “And there are certain things that come with being visible in terms of being a public figure, so to speak, and to continue to try to be as vigilant and as careful as you can knowing that you can’t always avoid other people’ choices.”
Fisher expressed hope that Early, who the team’s website said has only played in 10 games this season, would be able to remain with the team, although the coach was uncertain about the extent of Early’s injuries.
With Jim Baumbach and Al Iannazzone