NEW YORK – Brandon Knight did his duty Wednesday night: sitting on stage during the NBA’s lottery, answering a question during the ESPN broadcast and speaking to the media afterward – “just be a spokesperson for the Pistons,” as he put it. Like most players who devote hours and hours to honing their basketball skills to make the NBA, Knight didn’t appear to take great joy in this aspect of his job. But, hey, he gets paid millions of dollars, and he filled his role well.
But once his team responsibilities concluded for the night, Knight appeared to relax as he shared a conversation with Kyrie Irving. As Irving explained later, they talked about Knight helping the Pistons to big win over Cleveland while Irving sat out.
No wonder Knight looked so at ease – though, that might also have to do with his friendship with Irving.
“We have a competitive friendship,” Irving said.
It dates back to their junior year of high school, when Knight bested Irving in their first matchup.
“I can admit it,” Irving said. “He admits it, too.”
I bet Knight does.
Since, Irving has mostly had the upper hand. ESPN, Rivals and Scout all rated him higher than Knight in their recruiting rankings. Irving went No. 1 in the NBA draft, and – despite his desire to prove himself against Irving – Knight went eighth. Irving won Rookie of the Year, and Knight barely slipped onto the All-Rookie first team.
But Knight hasn’t looked second rate against Irving’s Cavaliers.
- Against the Cavaliers: 22.8 points and 5.3 assists per game, 69 percent from the field, 72 percent from beyond the arc
- Against everyone else: 12.2 points and 3.7 assists per game, 39 percent from the field, 36 percent from beyond the arc
Sample-size caveats apply, but Irving says those numbers aren’t a coincidence. Both players gear up for games against each other.
I, for one, hope to see this budding individual rivalry develop.
As elite prep players increasingly play national schedules with their high school and AAU teams, these types of long-term friendships are becoming increasingly common, but this one has potential to become special for two reasons. 1. Knight and Irving play the same position. 2. They play in the same division.
Knight, more than Irving, must up his play though to make this rivalry really matter, though. Though both players have similar ceilings, Irving is much further along.
“This is going to be a long friendship that’s going to last for years and years,” Irving said.
I hope that includes the competitive aspect of that friendship.