Good Morning
Good Morning

Kristaps Porzingis comes from a basketball-playing family

Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia celebrates after being drafted

Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia celebrates after being drafted with the #4 overall pick by the New York Knicks during the 2015 NBA Draft at Barclays Center on June 25, 2015. Credit: Mike Stobe

Talis and Ingrida Porzingis stood in the depths of Barclays Center, beneath the stands from which boos had rained down upon their son hours earlier.

Nearby was Kristaps Porzingis -- wearing a maroon suit, a blue Knicks hat and a wide smile -- showing no ill effects from the crowd's disappointment over his name being announced as the Knicks' first-round pick.

Surrounded by family and friends, the 19-year-old power forward from Latvia took out his cellphone, extended his arm and snapped a selfie. With his 7-foot wingspan, there was no need for a selfie stick.

That impressive length, combined with his outside shooting touch and enticing potential, convinced the Knicks that he was an international gamble worth taking. But still, when they selected the 7-1 forward with the fourth pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday night, the crowd in Brooklyn voiced its displeasure before Adam Silver had even pronounced the "zing" in Porzingis.

"A lot of fans weren't happy that they drafted me," Porzingis said. "But I have to do everything that's in my hands to turn those booing fans into cheering fans."

One day, perhaps he will. But on draft night, Talis and Ingrida -- more than 4,000 miles from their home in Liepaja, Latvia -- looked on as their son crossed the stage and received a New York welcome.

"It wasn't actually that hard because we knew that it was going to happen," Ingrida said as her son, Martins, 29, translated. "It happens in New York. I don't know if Kris is going to use this as motivation because he doesn't need this as motivation. He knows what he's doing and where he's going. I think whenever he starts to play, fans will start to love him and those boos will go away."

Added Talis, through Martins: "If he's going to play the same way as he did in Spain, with his hard work, I don't think it will be so hard to win over the fans."

It didn't take long to see that Kristaps comes from a basketball-playing family. Ingrida said his first word wasn't "mom" or "dad," it was "ball."

"The first memory is when he was 1 years old," Ingrida said. "His birthday he was asking, give me ball, ball, ball, ball, ball. And we got him a ball and a small basket and put it on the wall and he just started to dunk it straight away."

He was following in the footsteps of his parents and older brothers. Talis, who is 6-4, said he played semiprofessionally before becoming a bus driver.

Ingrida, at 6-1, said she played on the national youth teams in Latvia and went on to coach basketball. She's an admirer of Knicks president Phil Jackson and has read his books.

"As a basketball coach, I read those books because I loved the psychology and how he managed the players," she said. "That was so interesting for me."

When asked what she will say to Jackson when she meets him, she simply made a wide-eyed, jaw-dropped, star-struck facial impression. "I will just look at him," she said, drawing a laugh from her family.

That included her eldest son, Janis, 32, who at 6-7 played professionally in Europe for more than a decade, and middle son Martins, who is 6-3 and said he played in Latvia. "Kristaps," Martins said, "was born into basketball."

He also was born into a rather tall family. His parents said that Kristaps never had a sudden growth spurt but grew steadily over the years.

"When he was 10 years old, he was taller than all the rest of the guys on the team," Talis said. "That was the moment we understood that he could play at the higher level. But we never thought he would go this high."

Regardless of whether Kristaps was going to play professional basketball, Talis and Ingrida never wanted a language barrier to hold him back. So Kristaps, who said he began to pick up on the English language from cartoons and movies, started getting tutored in English at the age of 10. Now, like his brothers, he speaks fluently.

His tutoring on the basketball court came from his family, primarily his brother Janis, whom Kristaps called his mentor. Janis works out regularly with Kristaps, teaching him everything from footwork to his shooting stroke.

Janis said Kristaps' greatest strengths are his ability to draw out defenders and shoot over them and to provide help defensively as a shot-blocker, though he did admit,

"He will get some dunks in his face every now and then." But Janis said that Kristaps, with his physical talent and work ethic, always made his job of training him easy.

"He was always sharp, even as a kid. I always say the older brothers is the reason why," Janis said with a laugh. "We used to make all kinds of tricks on him. He had to figure out things very quickly or he would look like a dummy. He's sharp in that way. He sees what's coming."

Seeing what's coming with Kristaps is hard to project, which is what makes him such an intriguing mystery.

Martins said he remembers scouts and general managers first taking notice of Kristaps after the Under 18 European Championships in 2013.

"Then me and my older brother started to realize that he was actually that special," Martins said. "That he could be somewhere really high in basketball. It's still hard to believe. I haven't seen him on an NBA court, so I will believe it whenever I see it."

Kristaps -- who moved to Spain at the age of 15 to play professionally for Baloncesto Sevilla in Liga ACB -- may be in the NBA now, but his body is in no way NBA-ready.

He's listed at 230 pounds, though Martins said Kristaps has put on about 15 pounds since coming to the United States a month ago.

Janis was asked what Kristaps, only the third Latvian player in NBA history, must work on to ensure that his success translates in the NBA. He simply pointed at his lanky brother.

"Look at him," Janis said. "He's really skinny. That's the first thing you see right away. But at this point, there is no limitations on what he's capable of doing with movements and all that. He can develop a lot of things. It's going to take years, but he can do it."

Janis said it also could take years for Kristaps to win over the fans, and warned him that he may not have heard the last of the boos in New York.

"I think he understands why. We all understand why," Janis said. "He's probably not their favorite guy. But in years to come, in seasons to come, he may prove that he was the right choice."

Despite the pressure that comes with playing in New York, despite the expectations that come with being the fourth overall pick, despite the booing that comes with failing to be the selection most fans preferred on draft night, Porzingis held up his new jersey and said his dream to play for the Knicks had come true.

"I want to be part of the organization," he said. "And I know the fans are a little harsh sometimes, but that's how it is here in New York. And I'm ready for it."

New York Sports