What makes Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle so special? For starters, they chose to sign with the New York Knicks in free agency. They didn't land in NYC via a trade where they had no say in their destination.
Randle was the first to embrace the city in 2019, and three years later, Brunson showed up. The culture first started to shift in 2021 when Randle guided the Knicks to the playoffs. That isn't to say that when Brunson showed up, everything was going swell in New York. A few months before, the Knicks' season ended without a Play-In Tournament berth.
Randle and Brunson have embraced the city and fan base. What do they have to show for it? Randle's a three-time All-Star and has made two All-NBA teams, while Brunson earned his first All-Star nod on Thursday.
Watching Knicks fans stay at MSG after the team's 109-105 win over the Pacers on Thursday to hear Brunson's postgame interview was a special moment. As MVP chants rained down on the star point guard, Brunson had tears in his eyes. There's no better environment or place for Brunson to call home. He embodies what it means to be a Knick, which is something not every NBA star can handle.
Kevin Durant replies to tweet about superstars avoiding playing for the Knicks
Kevin Durant had the chance to join the Knicks in 2019. He was expected to sign with New York, but instead, he and Kyrie Irving opted to team up together in Brooklyn. In retrospect, that was a deal that worked out in the Knicks' favor, but it didn't seem like that at the time.
Durant's caught a lot of flak since he left the Thunder to sign with the reigning champion Warriors in 2016. His criticism doubled after he left Golden State to form his own superteam in Brooklyn with Irving. James Harden requested a trade to the Nets a few months after that, and that trio failed to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. It was an experiment that fizzled out quickly.
As a guest on JJ Redick's Old Man and the Three podcast in 2020, KD said he "didn't want to be the savior of the Knicks or New York." He said he preferred Brooklyn because it was "chill" and "quiet." The spotlight was still on Durant, but it was nothing compared to what it would've been like if he was on the Knicks. That's what makes Brunson's ascension so unique.
The point guard's rise has been extraordinary on its own, but the fact it's happened in New York makes it that much more special. He didn't arrive as a superstar but instead, as a former second-round pick who bet on himself and was looking to prove his doubters wrong. He's done that and then some.
How the 2019 offseason played out was disappointing then, but it laid the foundation for Randle and Brunson to pave the way. It's past time to appreciate what that duo has done for the Knicks!