The Knicks introduced Mikal Bridges on Tuesday following his trade from the Nets, hoping the forward and his former Villanova teammates can match their college success and bring a championship to Madison Square Garden. Newsday's Steve Popper reports. Credit: Newsday/Corey Sipkin

GREENBURGH — For Mikal Bridges, the notion of playing for the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, was a fantasy from the time he was drafted in 2018 through the trolling and teasing of his former Villanova teammates and friends last season. But it was just that, a fantasy that he’d put aside.

But Tuesday morning he arrived at the Knicks practice facility, posed for photos with his new No. 1 jersey, met with team president Leon Rose and coach Tom Thibodeau. He then met with the media to talk about how, unlikely as it may have seemed, the fantasy had become reality.

“It's surreal,” Bridges said. “It's dope to be a Knick. I thought I was going to be here in 2018, and I love everything about the team. Thibs, the crowd. MSG. All that. It's the history. And I think it kinds of brings me back to needing to leave for a while. Growing up, being older, you've been around some. Coming here, it makes me feel like a young kid again with all the memories. When I think about basketball when I was young, and the old school, it was always the Knicks. That's what you think about. MSG. The New York song. The Knicks song. All that stuff.”

His mother, Tyneeha Rivers, was seated in the front row next to Rose, just as she’d been at that draft with Bridges six years earlier. Then she might have been rooting for him to wind up in Philadelphia, where she was working in community relations. Now, coincidentally, she works in Manhattan, just a few blocks away from the Garden.

The Knicks passed on Bridges with the No. 9 pick in 2018 and he was selected by the 76ers with the next pick — but promptly traded to Phoenix, where he spent the first five seasons of his career. He was traded to the Nets as part of the package for Kevin Durant and struggled to carry the rebuilding franchise in a lead role.

“I didn’t play to how I wanted to play,” Bridges said. “Just learning from that. Last year was a big learning thing. Obviously, I didn’t play as well as I wanted to. Seeing a lot of things, going through that, kind of helps me. You kind of learn and build from mistakes . . . When stuff doesn’t go as well as you want it, you can’t just look at it and be upset and put your head down. You’ve got to look at it and accept what it was and learn how to grow from it. That’s the biggest thing. When adversity hits you’ve got to use it. You’ve got to use it as fuel, use it as a learning experience. I think that’s what I’m going to do. I think I’m saying the right things. My mom’s nodding her head.”

Rivers smiled and said, “I wanted to clap.”

The applause can be held for the on-court efforts. Some of what the Knicks hope to get can be attributed to his background as one of the group of four former Villanova teammates, friends who are accustomed to playing together. But more may just be the fit that he brings as a player who seems born out of Thibodeau’s mad professor lab. Bridges is a player who has played in 474 consecutive games since being drafted, twice leading the NBA in minutes played (fourth last season). He has earned first-team All-Defensive Team honors as well as proving to be a dangerous offensive threat.

“I see all the jokes,” Bridges said of Thibodeau's reputation for pushing his players — albeit one that his own players insist is untrue, pointing to the much-reduced physical workload at practices. “I see them, but it’s great. Thibs is a great coach, and I think one thing: who doesn’t want to play all the time? Just who he is, how he embodies and how structured he is, that’s what I came from. That’s high school, college, and with coach Monty [Williams in Phoenix] as well. Just guys, I’m fit for that.”

"I know everybody’s seen all the jokes about Thibs, but I’m like y’all must not have been watching me in Phoenix because coach Monty would play me 48 minutes and the man played me 50-something minutes against De’Aaron Fox in Sacramento, and y’all know how fast they play — and I was sick. So, I was sick as a bat, literally out there, couldn’t breathe, and I played 50-something minutes. I was on a frickin' chair after we won, laid out, and I think Monty didn’t think I was sick either, and he was like, ‘Look at him. That’s what we do.’ I’m like, let’s just get on this damn plane."

To get here now, it meant a deal between the Nets and Knicks — which hadn’t been done since 1983. There were reports that Bridges had asked for a deal — and particularly a trade to join his friends with the Knicks, but both sides have insisted that is untrue.

“That could not be further from the truth,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said Monday. “I think that's just not in Mikal’s character. It's not who he is. And that definitely did not happen. But he was told by me when I called him up and let them know that we're at the 2-yard line.”

“Sean said everything,” Bridges said. “I tried to say as much as I can when I was tweeting about things and my Instagram post. It’s just not who I am. It’s not. That’s what it is. I’m happy Sean had a chance to tell everybody. No matter what you’re going to say, they’re not going to believe you.”

Bridges had already bought a loft in Tribeca months before the trade, so there will be no need for relocation services. So, even if he didn’t ask out, he has certainly come home.

“I’m excited to be here,” Bridges said. “Excited to be a Knick. Excited to play at MSG. Excited to see my guy Spike [Lee] courtside. I don’t know, it’s just great to be here. Obviously, just the team we have. Thibs and everybody . . . Just really appreciative and excited to get to work. Just hate that it’s the summer because you’ve got to wait a long time to play. But really excited.”


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