NY Knicks' Pablo Prigioni and the Rise of Latinos in the NBA

"They had never seen our style," recalls Johnny. "In those years, the early-to-mid '70s, a whole bunch of the best Rican ballplayers from the streets of the City...were imported to the Puerto Rican league. There was Angelo Cruz and Georgie Torres, both great point guards from the Bronx, Neftalí Rivera who played for Quebradillas, there was Charlie Bermúdez, who I played with in high school, the legendary Héctor Blondet...and of course the Dalmau brothers." Johnny claims the Nuyorican players were recruited to change the Puerto Rico team's slower, European-style of play.

By 1978, the NBA had its first Puerto Rican player, Butch Lee, who was born in Santurce but moved to New York as a child and played college basketball at Marquette. In recent years, Puerto Rico has yielded a few strong players, such as Carlos Arroyo, who played for Orlando and Miami and now plays in Turkey, and Barea, who plays for Minnesota. And of course there's Carmelo Anthony.

While Anthony and Prigioni may share a Latino heritage, their playing styles are vastly different. Prigioni says that although he communicates well (in English) with Smith and Anthony, they are the kind of explosive players he rarely saw in Europe and back home. His basketball tradition is more closely linked to the relatively slow-footed grace of fellow Argentineans Manu Ginóbli, Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino. "In Argentina we never had a player that I would say, 'I want to be like him." I tried to incorporate things I liked about many different players," said Prigioni.

Although he's not exactly Linsanity and doesn't have Anthony's jaw-dropping highlight reel, Prigioni has made himself a key member of the team, which is not surprising for a guy who was named best point guard in Spain's ACB league three times. During the season he's had several moments when he stabilized the team as it floundered on offense, and he adds a kind of Zen calm to a squad prone to mood swings and inconsistent play. The kind of Latin flava Priggie Smalls brings is like a percussionist anchoring a flashy rhythm section of big city conjunto with a duo of charismatic lead singers. He's the one deciding what to do with the ball, dribbling steadily, keeping the beat.

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