Dear New York,
I have to be honest, I don’t really know what to say. I’ve been in New York for three years. How do you sum up what that time really means, with a fanbase that’s given you everything? That’s made you the person and the player that you are? I don’t think there’s anything I could say to ever do that justice, but I just wanted to try to sit down and write something from the heart for you guys. So here goes.
I’ll start with the trade.
Obviously this is a business, but when you literally have no idea this is coming…. I mean, there were no rumors, no nothing. Just woke up from a nap on a road trip, in a random hotel room in Indiana, to a text from my agent Raymond Brothers saying, “Call me. You’re getting traded.” Direct, quick, no warning. You get a text like that, and your heart just sinks. It didn’t even feel real. It was like I was in a dream or something. Before I can even hit him back, my phone starts ringing. It’s the Knicks front office. But it wasn’t just anybody. It was one of my guys, World Wide Wes. I call him Unc. I picked up, and man…... as soon as he got on the call, he just started crying. And just like that, my career with the New York Knicks was over. I knew it was forreal.
I’m really leaving.
I finally get on the phone with Raymond, and he’s like “Sounds like it’s about to go through now.” Next thing I know my phone is just lighting up. I’m getting all these texts, calls. I had to put it on Do Not Disturb. Then I see the Woj bomb, I see the Shams tweet. I immediately called Johnnie Bryant. He’s somebody that was basically my big brother while I was with the Knicks, somebody that I talked to about anything; my relationship with God, church, my family, anything. I would go to Johnnie. So I called him. He was like, “You know what it takes, you’re built for this. Obviously it’s a business, but you have the formula to be successful.” Told me to continue to lean on God and the work ethic that got me there.
When I got to the meeting room, everybody was already there waiting. My trainers, my massage therapists, some of my teammates, media people that work with us. You could feel the emotion in the room. The vibe was heavy. Everybody’s face was just so dejected, like somebody had died. And I just started hugging everybody. But when I got to Johnnie, that’s when it hit me the hardest. I hugged him, and in that moment I realized that this person, who’s like a brother to me, that I got so used to seeing every day, I realized I’m not going to see him no more. And I don’t care who you are, how tough you think you are ... that kinda moment is just overwhelming. Man, it breaks your heart.
I went around the room, and everybody that I had a special handshake with, we just did all the handshakes one last time, one by one, because we knew it was over.
That plane ride back to New York was eerie. I’ll never forget that. The Knicks still had a game that night, and I remember sitting on the plane and putting on NBA League Pass, seeing that they were playing. I watched, and it felt like I was missing a game almost, like I was just out or something. I’m looking at all my teammates on that lil airplane screen just thinking like, Wait, am I missing a game? It was so weird. It just still didn’t feel real that I wasn’t on the team anymore.
I’m still in a little bit of shock, if I’m being honest. I grew up here, in a way. When I first got drafted, I had just turned 21. I felt like I was a little kid. I still remember that first day at the practice facility. So when you get there you get a practice jersey, right? The blue team is the starting five. And then the white team is the next five. Then you have the green jerseys and black jerseys, and those guys probably aren’t going to play very much or have to work their way into the rotation. Guess what I got??
Man, they gave me a green. And listen, I’m straight. It’s all good. But you gotta understand, in my mind it’s like, I’ve gone from being a McDonald’s All-American to playing two years at Kentucky, winning SEC Player of the Year, first-round draft pick. And now I got on a green jersey. That was a wake-up call for me that I’ll never forget. It was humbling.
The first preseason game rolls around, and we’re playing Detroit. And the whole day everybody’s texting me, “Can’t wait to watch you play,” dah dah dah. I was excited the whole day, too. I couldn’t wait to finally play my first NBA game. First game, I don’t even get in. Then the second game comes around. I play six minutes. Third game, I’m finally in there. I think I played 15 to 20 minutes, and I played really well, and we won. The last preseason game, like everybody’s injured, every point guard, every shooting guard, everyone’s injured. So I’m thinking Coach Thibs has to put me in, he has no choice haha. I’m in my head like, Here we go, this is my shot. I’m ready to make the most of it, show everyone what I can do.I ended up scoring 25 points, six assists or something like that. It was a really good game for me, and we won that one, too. Versus Cleveland, in the Garden.
I ain’t gonna lie, after that game, we had practice the next day, and I thought I was just gonna start starting! I’m like, O.K., I just had 25 points, seven assists and a rebound. I’m clearly a starter in the NBA. Guess what jersey they handed me?? Hahah. But I thank God for that opportunity because that’s really where my career started, honestly. Had things not gone the way they did in the preseason, who knows if I otherwise would’ve ever got a chance to play that early in my career.
And that taught me something about this game, too. Like yeah, it’s important to take advantage of getting a look like that. You definitely can’t take it for granted. But success isn’t about one breakout moment, you what I mean? A few games into the regular season, I had another one of those opportunities. We played in Portland, and I put up 31 points, against Dame. In 25 minutes, too. Those moments stick with you. That’s when I was like, O.K., so I can really be good if I just continue to keep working. I stopped looking at every opportunity as my one and only shot and just played.
I also started looking around me at how other guys moved, who had been in this league longer than me, just having a mindset that I could always be adding to my game. Julius was a big one for me. I remember I got a text from him the night I got traded. He said, “It don’t matter where you at. I got you, man. Anything you need.” With all the craziness of the night, that was really reassuring, but it especially meant something coming from him. He’s another guy that’s been like a brother to me. I’ve learned so much from him. One of the biggest things I think I’ve taken away, especially because he’s been around Kobe, is just his mindset. Sometimes in the gym, anybody can vouch, I’ll just watch him — how he prepares, how he goes about his work and his daily habits. How he goes through his workouts. From time to time, I’d just text him to pick his brain like, “What’s your mindset before a game?” When you’ve been around the best, you know what it takes in a different way, and he’s always willing to share any knowledge he has. That’s my guy, always.
It’s funny thinking about the little “New York” things that just become part of your normal, you know what I mean? When you play here, everybody know the Knicks, which mean everybody know you. I remember going to the white party. It was a whole bunch of superstars there, and people were coming up to me like, “Yo, Quick!!” Man, 50 Cent grabbed me the other day while I was taking the ball out of bounds hahah. I got so used to seeing Spike, one of the last games I played with the team versus Brooklyn I hit back-to-back threes, fell on the ground, and without even thinking I just go up to Spike, dap him up and hug him. It was the funniest thing to me. Like, what else would you do? And at the time, it was just regular. Now, it means even more. That stuff I’ll remember forever.
But more than anything, I’ll remember what we built here.
Our team was just so driven to be better. We were never thinking like, We’re gonna turn things around. Nah, it wasn’t like that at all. We oftentimes didn’t even realize what we were doing. We were just chopping wood, carrying water. Trying to see how we could be better each and every day. It’s funny, when you’re in that mindset, and you’re so focused on the job, you almost don’t even realize when change starts to happen. But more and more, I’d find myself at a restaurant in the city, or a store, and customers or owners or just anybody, if they were a Knicks fan (which they usually are) would come up and be like, “Thank you, we appreciate everything you’ve done.” They’d be like, “I’ve been a fan since Patrick Ewing.” And that’s when it really started to hit me what this meant. It’s pretty cool to know you were part of changing a culture back to winning ways, which just says a lot about the group we had and what we were able to accomplish.
And that’s something that I’m going to take with me to Toronto — chopping wood, carrying water. Continuing to put the work in because that’s how you get better.
It’s been one of the craziest weeks in my life forreal. I won’t lie, when I first heard where I was headed, I was like, I don’t know if it’s going to work. Who’s gonna be there? Where am I going to live? I just didn’t know anything. I’m literally kind of still in that moment right now, where I just don’t know. The other day I was in Toronto, I was hungry, and I had no idea where to go eat, you know what I’m saying? But I’m learning to embrace the uncertainty. I can see the bigger picture. I see the opportunity for a larger role, which was kind of a reason that it worked out for both teams. The Knicks got what they wanted, and it helped me to be in a position to show what I can do on a night-to-night basis, which I’m really looking forward to.
Actually, I’m not just looking forward to it — I’m excited about it. The more I get my bearings, the more I can feel myself starting to get comfortable here. One thing I realized off the bat is that this team’s really close already, and even in my short time with the team so far, I can see myself fitting right in. It helps that the vets, they just welcome you with open arms. They make it really easy. The culture here is amazing. I would assume just from what I’ve seen, this has got to be one of the best organizations in theleague as far as togetherness. Everybody’s really just one big family forreal. It’s really cool to see and be a part of. Knowing that they really wanted me here makes everything a lot easier. I just want the Raptors fans to know, if you’re reading this, I wouldn’t want to start my next chapter anywhere else.
But goodbyes are never easy.
More than anything, I just gotta say thank you, to the whole Knicks organization from top to bottom, for taking a chance on me and believing in me enough to take me in the first round. Thanks Leon Rose and Scott Perry and the whole front office. Thibs, thank you for trusting me in big moments. You treated me with nothing but respect and love, through the ups and downs. Johnnie, thank you for everything. I have so many teammates, some who aren’t there anymore, that were such a big influence on me. Thank all of you guys. Julius and RJ. Allan Houston. Everybody.
And last but not least, I want to thank the fans for staying with us, for staying with me. I wish I could hug all of you guys. Every night you go out there on the court, you’re playing for the team above all else. But the way you guys embraced me gave me something to play for that was bigger than myself, bigger than the team. Every night, deep down I was playing for you.
I wanna end on one last memory, my favorite memory.
The Boston Celtics game, in March 2023. Jalen was out, so I found out I was starting in the morning. And it was Sunday night, ABC game. I played 55 minutes in double overtime and had 38 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. And we won. I’ll never forget, it’s second overtime, and I go down the lane and dunk it. And if you watch the clip, I’m running down the court, and it looks like I’m pointing to the bench, but I’m really pointing to Johnnie because he told me I couldn’t dunk! That was the most fun I’ve ever had in a game. I’ll never forget it. I’m sure a lot of Knicks fans won’t forget that game either.
And yeah, I guess that’s all a long way of saying that I love this city from the bottom of my heart, and that will never change. To have gotten my start here means the world to me.
These things move so fast, it’s crazy that I’m already on the road with my new family. But it wouldn’t be right to leave without saying a little something just to let y’all know that the love is mutual.
It’ll be weird coming back to the Garden as a visitor and being in the visitors’ locker room. That’s gonna take some getting used to. All the weirdness and adjusting is all good, though. That’s life. Ultimately, it’s just another reminder that these past three years really meant something.
And I owe you guys for that.
Thanks for making it matter.