NEW YORK — The more I’m around Eddy Curry, the more I like his honesty and off-court jesting. He smiles easily, good humoredly messes with teammates and is quick to poke fun at himself.
About 30 minutes after the Knicks’ 37-20 recent fourth-quarter domination of Denver, thus acing their first troublesome test of the unsullied season, Baby Huey sat half-dressed in front of his dressing cubicle and welcomed his last visitor.
“As big as you are, it’s amazing how light you are on your feet. You must be a good dancer,” I submitted.
“I can’t dance a lick. When the music starts I take a seat,” Curry cracked.
A craze that often carried over from the dance floor to the basketball court his first two years as a Knick, he added nonchalantly without any witness-leading whatsoever.
“Usually I’m on the bench at the end of a close game. For defensive reasons,” he clarified.
As tactlessly as possible, I told Curry I thought his failure to hit free throws also might have something to do with it.
“It’s probably a combination of the two,” he said cheerfully.
Imagine that; someone who can handle the truth.
Yet despite missing three out of four from the line in the final quadrant Curry never sat down until the victory was in the bag with 21.4 seconds remaining and 24 points and eight rebounds were on the books.
Isiah Thomas is like that sometimes; against his better judgment he sticks with a player just because he manages to manufacture seven points, five rebounds, one block, one steal and acceptable defense.
It meant a lot to Curry that Thomas showed him some, er, love. Except for the sporting greats, a player’s confidence is only as strong as his coach’s confidence in him.
“This was something to build on,” Curry said happily as he tied his non-dancing shoes.
Last week’s soiree was the most fun Curry said he had between the lines since who knows when.
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NO OFFENSE TO the Knicks’ Renaldo Balkman, but for those comparing him to Dennis Rodman, keep in mind the radical rebounder led the league in that category an unparalleled seven straight times (how did Wilt know this and not make a comeback?) and averaged 13.1 over 14 seasons.
The Rubber Band Man has a ways to go.
Interestingly enough, Rodman and Balkman put up the exact same average (4.3) as rookies and Renaldo actually needed fewer (91) minutes.
The next season Rodman more than doubled his aver age to 8.7, then upped it to 9.4 and 9.7 before breaking the double-figure barrier in year five, an accomplishment he maintained for the remainder of his career. Only in his first two seasons did his scoring average exceed his board score.
(FYI: Wilt never averaged less than 18.2 rebounds per game, jump starting his pro career with highs of 27.0 and 27.2. In 14 seasons he led the league 11 times.)
Obviously, Balkman’s repertoire — and incessant bounce to the ounce as he preens and parades around the court after doing something special — is reminiscent of Rodman.
No wonder Thomas was the lone ranger to pick him out of a crowd at the NBA’s pre-draft camp in Orlando two summers ago.
Just off one full-court dribbling improvisation to pay dirt it was plain to see how conscientiously he worked on his ball-handling this past summer.
Thomas says Balkman in vested the same amount of time and effort on his mid-range jumper. For the Knicks’ sake, the improvement on his stroke will be painstakingly gradual.
Last thing the team needs is another shooting star in its congested galaxy.
NOT SO LONG ago, Andrei Kirilenko was all by his lonesome at filling up the stat sheet so comprehensively. Josh Smith (22 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks, four assists, four steals in a win over Phoenix) now surpasses him night in and night out.
By the way, when was the last time four teammates registered 10 or more boards (Atlanta’s Al Horford, 15, Marvin Williams, 12, Smith, 10, and Josh Childress, 10) in one game?
Meanwhile, Rudy Gay of the Grizzlies already appears to be comfortable at small forward and is exhibiting the same overall flair as Kirilenko and Smith.
Against the Stupor Sonics, he recorded 25 points, 10 boards, three blocks, three steals and two assists.
Gay, Pau Gasol and Darko Milicic present one of the league’s most formidable problematic and unheralded frontline.
Peter Vecsey covers the NBA for the New York Post.