Believing in Balkman
Yes, just three games into the preseason Balkman is becoming something of a folk hero both with teammates and fans. Not at all bad for a player who was received with, shall we say, widespread doubts at first.
“We were just talking about that with my teammates,” booms Balkman. “They were teasing me saying ‘they booed you on draft day. Now they’re all behind you all of a sudden.'” That’s what 9 points and 7 rebounds in just 13 minutes of playing time -- that’s what Renaldo copped against the Celtics -- will do for you. Especially if those astonishing stats are both unexpected and accomplished through the type of unending hustle and all-court fury that’s rarely seen on a NBA court.
“I’m just playing my game,” smiles Balkman. “I wasn’t worried about the boos. I knew I’d change their minds. That’s all I can do. That’s who I am. Hustle plays. Doing all the little things. Rebound, kick it and just go with it. I’m always on the floor. I’m everywhere. I got a nose for the ball. Where the ball is, that’s where I’m at.”
“And what you’ve seen of me so far is just the beginning. There’s more to come.”
“People see me on the street, the diehard fans, they point and go ‘Hey, that’s Balkman.’ Already, it’s been unbelievable.”
Just a couple of weeks ago Knicks Head Coach and President Isiah Thomas didn’t feel it likely that this year’s rookies would make much of an immediate rotation impact. Now? “Well, Balkman, he’s definitely made you notice him,” Thomas said with a smile. “I said I wanted to have a blank canvas. He’s definitely put some paint on that. The things he does on the floor are very unique. He’s a different kind of talent.”
“Taz, he’s crazy,” said Richardson. “He’s real cool and funny at the same time. He’s a quiet killer. Then he makes a play, gets all hyped and that hair is flying all over the place. He’s a special dude, not one who cares about booing all that much. It was great for him to get a standing ovation last night, though. We all loved it.”
“Defensively, he’ll give anyone a problem -- LeBron, Carmelo, anybody -- because he’s so l-o-o-o-o-n-g and has speed and quickness to go with it. In practice, you can’t get a bounce pass by him. He’s going to be a huge fan favorite. New York definitely loves a guy like that.”
And Balkman will love the City right back. “Madison Square Garden,” he says dreamily. “That’s where I played my best in the NIT, that’s where I was discovered. It gives me goose bumps. It’s a very special place in my heart.”
As far as the myriad of Balkman non-believers, Thomas talked of one. “Greg Anthony,” he said. “That’s what I love about the Pistons. Laimbeer, Joe Dumars, myself, we’d be on TV, we had to talk about the league, but you’d never, ever heard us say a bad word about the Pistons. This so-called former Knick who on draft day, with millions of people watching, had the audacity to take me to task on a player that I’m pretty sure he had never seen before in his life. The things that he said on draft night about good solid work that we thought we had done, the position he took, I thought he was way, way out of bounds. And that’s all I’ll say about that.”