Randle, Redeemed

Julius Randle Earns All-Star Role, 1st Knick in 3 Years | The Knicks Wall

It’s been the longest, coldest, loneliest winter, and every time I look up – usually to take my eyes off the screen for the requisite twenty seconds-per-twenty minutes of screen time, or about as much as my stop light eyes can stand in the middle of the afternoon – it gets longer. Once again, winter is and has been upon us, beautiful falling snow giving way to the malignant ice, which has never done anyone any favors and, really, just ought to melt immediately, in between Jack Frost’s cosplay as Punxsutawney Phil.

Even in New York City – we’re the lucky ones as far as the past two weeks have gone, and among places you’d expect to not be doing so well in a February winter – seasonal depression is self-evident in almost anyone you encounter, as far as “encountering” a person can go these days: there is the lady on the muffled phone call, pulling from a cigarette in between listening; there is the shop owner, only going inside when a potential customer directs her in; there is the man on the street, literally pleading with his corgi to please join him on the street corner.

I have to imagine – I must, I am compelled to – that most of these people and maybe some that you encounter are only looking for hope. It does spring eternal, after all. Spring is near. We’re getting into cherry and strawberry season. Mike Conley was almost a first time All-Star at age 33! Vaccines are, if not plentiful, at least available, ostensibly.

All of which, unfortunately, speaks to the experience of being a fan of the New York Knickerbockers, a franchise which has done its absolute best over the past 21 years to ensure that nobody who isn’t an accountant enjoyed it. When names like Jared Jeffries, Mardy Collins and Renaldo Balkman[1] become a part of a team’s DNA according to its fans, you’re gonna have some problems.

On Tuesday night, a slight light forced its way into the hearts of the devoted thousands and otherwise mostly bothered millions: Knicks forward Julius Randle, a formerly reviled ball-stopper with his current franchise and otherwise directionless yet promising bowling ball with former teams, was elected to the NBA All-Star Game, this year happening in Atlanta and also maybe not happening at all. We’ll see.

Randle was a world-beating force in high school, a top recruit in an ultimately underwhelming recruiting class, and at the University of Kentucky that also sported the likes of Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, the Harrison brothers and Tyler Ulis. All of these people matter regardless, but some of them mattered a lot more to many more people, some for malicious reasons, at some point.

In his benevolence, Randle helped spur his ‘Cats team to a national championship game berth. Although that one was not John Calipari’s AD Freshmen Team Pt. II, they nevertheless inspired the ongoing youth movement that continues to permeate college athletics.

None of which necessarily has to do with Randle’s becoming an All-Star seven years later, of course, except: preseason Knicks assistant coaching hire Kenny Payne[2] was on the Kentucky coaching staff for the past decade, and four Knicks rotation players this season are Kentucky products. That it happens to occur this season might simply be fortuitous for the UKnicks crowd.

That it also happens after shadowing Kobe and Anthony Davis, as well as once being a part of the next-best Lakers team that wasn’t, surely isn’t a coincidence. Randle has always taken the game seriously, and was something of an undervalued commodity when he signed with the Knicks two summers ago. What both sides needed – the Knicks more than Randle, but anyway – was a clean slate, and here was Orange Julius to wash away some bitter tastes.

His first season in New York was bereft of just about anything you’d want out of a potentially franchise-altering cornerstone: he scored plenty, but in unpredictable spurts, while playing Westbrook-ball without the handles or know-how. He looked confused and lost, and his tyke teammates weren’t much help. On the occasional night, there was promise, but one which was broken by the immediately following game.

This season has been something unfamiliar, both to Knicks fans and to Randle himself. He is averaging career highs in (name a category, and the answer is: probably). He received a well-deserved All-Star nod, albeit plucked from a field of similarly deserving candidates, and has led the Knicks kids to a place approaching a word kind of like a synonym of respect – a totally unfamiliar notion to anyone having even the faintest notion of what the Knicks are and whom they ostensibly represent.

To his credit, Randle earned an ejection in his first game following the announcement of his All-Star nod. That it happened in the dying moments of an eight-point loss to the Golden State Warriors surely delights fans of the Ewing-era Knicks, an era not that far gone but so much so that it works as a better generational marker than how you part your hair, or what pants you wear[3], was perfect, an ideal testament to bridging generational fandom among ne’er-do-well Knicks acolytes. To Julius: congratulations, you’re a Knick.


[1] Go Cocks

[2] Who, it should be noted, played alongside Never Nervous Pervis Ellison on Louisville’s national championship team in 1986

[3] “Do you remember when the Knicks were good?” seems like an absurd question on any number of levels – to people who don’t follow basketball; to older people who still think the Knicks are good because they can hear Walt Frazier every time they’re on TV; to anyone around the writer’s age in 2013, the last time the Knicks made the playoffs; to younger people who have no idea what the Knicks are because the Knicks refuse to go viral on TikTok – but there is something enduring about the Ewing teams that I can’t see dying at any point between now and when the team next makes a conference title push. I have to imagine this has something to do with the casuals who have never heard of Jared Jeffries, but I digress.

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