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David Fizdale, Knicks players visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center

Knicks coach David Fizdale talks with Kevin Knox

Knicks coach David Fizdale talks with Kevin Knox during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in Indianapolis. Indiana won 103-98. Credit: AP/Darron Cummings

The Knicks have tried to preach toughness as they prepare for the current NBA season. Tuesday morning Knicks coach David Fizdale showed his team just what toughness really is.

Fizdale and the Knicks front office arranged a visit for the team to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, remaining overnight in Washington after their preseason game and rather than practicing, paying a visit to wounded soldiers.

The entire team and coach staff, along with executives Steve Mills and Scott Perry were a part of the visit, signing autographs and taking pictures with the soldiers, military personnel and medical staff. Fizdale then took a contingent of players — Dennis Smith Jr., Julius Randle, Kevin Knox, Wayne Ellington and Taj Gibson to visit wounded veterans in their rooms. One of the wounded soldiers, a 24-year-old from South Carolina, shares mutual friends with Smith and said that he looks up to the fellow native of South Carolina.

“I felt it would be a good idea,” Fizdale said. “We were staying over because we can’t fly back because of construction. I said let’s not waste this opportunity. To visit these soldiers it does something for the soldiers, but for a young team it gives a perspective and makes you appreciate what you have, hopefully gives them an understanding what service and selflessness is. What I’m asking isn’t anything compared to what these guys are giving.”

Fizdale had been with organizations that had visited — the Miami Heat players came to Walter Reed during White House visits after winning the NBA championship — but he had never had the opportunity to accompany the players to the hospital.

For Knox, it was impactful because of his family ties to the military. He has relatives who have served and are serving overseas and when he was a child the family lost his uncle, Raymond Estelle, to friendly fire in Afghanistan. 

“It means a lot,” Knox said. “I’ve got multiple family members that have been overseas, are still overseas, still in the military. My uncle passed away in the field. It means a lot to go see the wounded soldiers and veterans just because of my history with the military and of course my uncle passing away.

“They were just in Afghanistan and one of his own people started letting fire. It was when I was a little kid, probably in middle school I think when it happened. Quite a few years ago. It definitely was tough for my family. We got through it. Every time there’s military appreciation night it’s always a big night for me just because of him and because of my history with the military.”

“We talk about sacrificing in the NBA,” Randle said. “Those guys made the ultimate sacrifice. A lot of things happened to them and they’re still 100 percent committed to what they’re doing. I’m excited and it’s a good experience for all of us.”

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