And that Latin infusion is set to keep growing. Since the original NBA Dream Team, which played in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, and subsequent international marketing efforts by the NBA, Spaniards and Latin Americans have increasingly become fascinated with basquetból. Deadspin's Reuben Fischer-Baum makes a compelling case that, as US Latinos become more "urbanized" like their ethnic European and African American predecessors, Latino participation in the NBA will increase accordingly. There are already increasing numbers of US Latinos playing in NCAA Division 1, as evidenced by this incident last year involving Kansas State's Angel Rodriguez. In the very near future, highlight videos might become dominated by players like Priggie Smalls.
The Knicks have their own version of that Latin flava. Forward Carmelo Anthony, one of the biggest stars in the NBA, is proudly half-Puerto Rican, and J.R. Smith, who went to high school with New York Giants salsa-dancing star Victor Cruz, though not Hispanic, will occasionally show some Latino love by imitating his friend's dance when scoring the winning basket.
Anthony's ties to Puerto Rico are especially strong, and he flaunts them proudly. He sports a tattoo of the Puerto Rican flag on his shooting hand, and he has built three basketball courts in poor neighborhoods in Puerto Rico, including La Perla and Loíza. He has also outfitted a float in the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York (with rapper Fat Joe as a guest) and is married to Nuyorican TV personality La La Vasquez.
Last September, when Anthony was in the Puerto Rican city of Bayamón inaugurating his third basketball court, he told ESPN's Jared Zwirling that he wanted to honor his father, who died when he was two years old. "I'm sure I have family in Puerto Rico, but I don't know who they are," he said. Even so, he is proud of his roots, and through his foundation hopes to give back to Puerto Rico.
Fans have taken note of the Knicks' Latin influence. "New York is a world-renowned franchise, there are Knicks fans everywhere," said Prigioni. "But it's possible that now there is more of an attraction to the team for Latinos. A lot of people at the games at Madison Square Garden and on the road shout things to me in Spanish. It's kind of a beautiful experience."
In reality, New York basketball's new Latino connection isn't exactly new, and it also involved an intermingling of European and American style of play. The ties between New York and Puerto Rican basketball were significant in the 1970s, when the Puerto Rican Olympic basketball team sent scouts to New York City to recruit. Juan Flores's book The Diaspora Strikes Back features the story of "Johnny," a player recruited from Brooklyn: