February 28, 2019: The New York Knicks’ Kevin Knox at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Credit: Matteo Marchi/MSG Photos

According to the latest report from Forbes, the New York Knicks are worth $US 4 billion ($AU 5.6 billion), making them the most valuable NBA team in the United States for the fourth year running. To put this figure into perspective, the average NBA team is worth $US 1.9 billion ($AU 2.6 billion). Yes, Stateside, it’s big business.

In its annual rankings, Forbes attributes the Knicks’ 11 per cent value spike to the billion-dollar renovation of Madison Square Garden. Completed in 2013, the home court of the city’s basketball team has produced a series of new revenue streams – and tickets to a Knicks game are as much part of NYC’s social fabric as a boozy Sunday brunch. The club is tied with the New York Yankees as the second-most-valuable US sport franchise after the Dallas Cowboys (worth $US 5 billion or $AU 7 billion).

These brain-bending sums of money – and the fact the Knicks haven’t had a great season – surely add to the enormous pressure the team’s new players are already experiencing. In fact, the New York Times likened this rookie season to a seismograph. As we go to print, 19-year-old star rookie Kevin Knox has just scored 19 points in an array of slashes to the basket against the Los Angeles Lakers. One three-pointer even happened while guarded by immortal LeBron James – and the Knicks won 124-123. It was, in a way, a redemption game for the Arizona native, who had been, by his own admission, struggling recently with a slump in performance.

Across the court, Knox’s teammate Mitchell Robinson towers at 216cm. The 21-year-old is the first player to withdraw from college basketball and dedicate an entire season to training on his own. Known as the current game’s best shot blocker, the freshman has been blocking shots at a rate not seen since Sudanese-born American basketball player Manute Bol in the ’80s. (Bol stood at 231cm.) While the team isn’t doing so well, Robinson is a sure fire reason to keep watching.

Getting selected for the draft is one thing but staying at the top is another. Knox and Robinson sit down with ICON to chat pressure, New York and the realities of being a part of the biggest team in the NBA.

KEVIN KNOX

June 22, 2018: The 2018 New York Knicks draft picks, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson (foreground), meet with media at the MSG Training Center in Tarrytown, NY. Credit: Jeff Vallee/NY Knicks
ICON: You made your debut for the team in October 2018. Do you remember what was going through your head as you came off the bench and hit the court?

KEVIN KNOX (KK): “I mean, a lot of nervousness. Just excited, anxious to play my first game. It was definitely fun, but it was definitely nerve-wracking. I mean, during my first NBA game there was a lot going on, so I just made sure I just stayed focused and just played my game.”

ICON: How would you describe your upbringing in Tampa, Florida?

KK: “Tampa, that’s basically where I was raised. I went to middle school there, high school and elementary school for a little bit. Everything just basically happened to me there. I learnt how to play the game of basketball and football. So, that’s basically where I was raised, and it was a great city for me. My high school was great, middle school was great. So that basically raised me.”

January 30, 2019: The New York Knicks’ Kevin Knox at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Credit: Matteo Marchi/MSG Photos
ICON: Your performance is constantly measured by point averages, shoot percentages and numbers of rebounds and assists and you’re always compared to other rookies. You’re still so young, so how do you deal with this pressure of “you’re only as good as your last game”?

KK: “Just leaving everything on the court. Just going out there and playing your game. And just trying to play hard and play at a high level. I think when people say ‘leave everything on the court’ that means just going out there and giving it 100 percent effort on both ends of the court.”

ICON: Knicks coach David Fizdale says he wants you to play through all struggles and pain and fight your way out of a slump in performance. How do you prep your mind before a game?

KK: “I usually like to just clear my head, listen to music, talk to my mum and my dad, see how my family is doing. I like to talk to my family just to clear my head and just get ready for the game.”

ICON: What was the most challenging thing about moving to New York City?

KK: “Probably just dealing with the traffic. I mean, there’s a lot of traffic going on in the city. The more you live in New York, you realise what time not to drive in the city, so I kind of realise that now. When I first got here, I would just drive into the city whenever and I caught myself stuck in a lot of traffic.” •

Follow Kevin on Instagram here.

MITCHELL ROBINSON

June 22, 2018: The 2018 New York Knicks draft picks, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson (foreground), meet with media at the MSG Training Center in Tarrytown, NY. Credit: Jeff Vallee/NY Knicks
ICON: Tell us about the year you trained on your own – what was that like and how did it benefit you over playing college basketball?

MITCHELL ROBINSON (MR): “Training for that year, it kind of prepared me a little bit, because we focused on the NBA stuff. So taking that year off kind of helped me a lot because I’m a late starter in the game of basketball and, you know, getting in there, getting it in every day, helped me out a lot.”

ICON: You made your Knicks debut in October 2018. Do you remember what was going through your head as you hit the court?

MR: “I was just ready to get back out there. Like you were saying, I took the year off and, you know, I was just looking forward to playing and getting back on the court.”

ICON: Best advice you live by off the court?

MR: “Stay strong, stay focused and, you know, just get better.”

February 1, 2019: The New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Credit: Matteo Marchi/MSG Photos
ICON: What was the most challenging thing about moving to New York City?

MR: “Well, New York City is big. Being from down south [in Florida], there ain’t really big cities like that. I had to adjust to that. The time difference a little bit, I had to get adjusted to that. And then also, you know, just how traffic is in New York. You gotta manage the time just right so you can be on time for everything and not be late.”

January 21, 2019: The New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Credit: Matteo Marchi/MSG Photos
ICON: At 216cm (7’1”)– and with a wingspan of 224cm (7’4”) – what is clothing shopping like for you on Madison Avenue?

MR: “It’s tough! It’s hard to find stuff my size, so you gotta order everything. Well, most of it – you can buy shirts at the store and stuff. Well, certain shirts. You can’t really buy too many. But, it’s tough.” •

Follow Mitchell on Instagram here. 

THIS ARTICLE APPEARED ORIGINALLY IN THE APRIL 2019 EDITION OF ICON MAGAZINE.

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