For most of the past decade and a half, the New York Knicks have been constantly rebuilding. The team has found itself stuck in no man’s land ever since losing to the Toronto Raptors in the 2001 NBA playoffs, cycling through 11 head coaches and numerous changes in franchise direction in an attempt to rebuild basketball in the United States’ largest city. None of their attempts has worked, as the Knicks have managed to win just one playoff series in the past 16 seasons.
But this time, the Knicks appear to have a genuine superstar to build their team around in 22-year-old Kristaps Porzingis. Since joining New York after being taken fourth overall in the 2015 NBA draft, Porzingis has developed into the Knicks’ best player, going from 14.3 points per game as a rookie to 27.9 points per game in his third season in the NBA. Porzingis’ rise has been so rapid that the Knicks decided to make him the face of their franchise after Carmelo Anthony demanded and got a trade out of New York, and Porzingis has responded with his best season as a pro through the first month of the season.
However, the Knicks have struggled to secure Porzingis’ long-term future because of concerns of how the team is treating its players from Porzingis’ older brother Janis. Janis Porzingis serves as Kristaps’ agent and gave an interview on Nov. 2 that suggested that the Latvian superstar would be willing to look outside of New York when he hits free agency if the situation in New York is not to his liking. The elder Porzingis also added that money alone would not be enough to convince Kristaps Porzingis to stay, claiming that what his brother wanted to achieve in his career was more important.
Kristaps Porzingis tried to calm fears that he might leave, but the reality remains on the table if he does not re-sign. Here are five things to know about Janis Porzingis.
1. He Spent 14 Years Playing Professionally in Europe
Janis Porzingis isn’t the stereotypical talentless family member trying to ride the coattails of a more talented family member to fame and riches. Long before Kristaps’ NBA career was even a thought, Janis was a solid player in several European basketball leagues. During a career that lasted between 2000 and 2014, Janis spent time in leagues in Italy, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Austria and Croatia. He did not compete in Eurobasket for the Latvian national team, but did appear with the Latvian national team in exhibition matches.
The older Porzingis was a small forward during his playing days and stands 6-foot-7, a difference of eight inches from his 7-foot-3 younger brother. Janis has no problem admitting that he’s not in the same league as his brother, and he hasn’t won a game of one-on-one against Kristaps since 2013, two years before the Knicks drafted him. Even then, Janis admitted that Kristaps should have won the game, but opted to shoot from the outside rather than use his height advantage, allowing Janis to steal a victory.
2. Kristaps Considers His Brothers His Biggest Mentors
As the most talented member of his basketball-loving family, it would be easy for Kristaps to dismiss the advice of his older brothers. However, both Janis and Martins, his other older brother, have remained a large part of Kristaps’ life off the court. After all, Janis has lived the life of a professional athlete in several different countries, giving Kristaps an ideal mentor to handle both life and basketball as a young player in New York.
It was Janis who warned him that he would be booed on draft night by New York fans who had never heard of him, which helped Kristaps both prepare for the moment and prepare to prove his critics wrong. The three brothers live together just outside of New York, and Janis commonly works out with Kristaps when the younger sibling decides to get in a workout outside of practice with the Knicks.
3. He Became His Brother’s Agent Upon His Own Retirement
Officially, Janis works for Andy Miller’s agency in New York, but his sole concern is the well-being of his younger brother and his career. Janis has been registered with the NBA as an officially certified agent since 2015 when Kristaps was drafted, and the official designation is that Janis is Kristaps’ primary agent and Miller is his secondary agent.
Janis has proven himself adept at using the leverage available to his brother. One great example came at the end of the 2016-17 season, when Porzingis blew off a meeting with then-Knicks president Phil Jackson, prompting Jackson to explore trade options for the forward. As Janis expected, the dysfunction caused by perceived unhappiness in the Porzingis camp led to changes in the Knicks organization, among them the ousting of Jackson.
4. He’s Not Afraid to Speak Out for His Brother
Kristaps hasn’t exactly been shy at getting his thoughts out in the open when things haven’t been to his liking in New York, but Janis has done most of the heavy lifting on the technical side of things, allowing his brother to stay in the good graces of the New York fans while making sure that the Knicks treat Kristaps fairly.
With questions still swirling about the Knicks’ direction, Janis seized on the opportunity to make the conversation about winning by reaffirming that his brother’s concern is about winning and doing what is best for his career rather than what’s best for his wallet.
With the Knicks now at 44 years and counting since they won their last championship in 1973, a desire to win was certainly something that New York fans could both understand and not fault their team’s best player for expressing.
5. He and Martins Ran Into Visa Problems at the Start of the Season
Visa problems are a common occurrence for foreign athletes at the start of their season in the United States, but it’s not as common for agents to find themselves stranded at the beginning of the season. However, that’s the situation that Janis and Martins, who serves as Kristaps’ manager, faced at the beginning of October as the Knicks prepared for their season to begin.
Latvia was not one of the nations listed in president Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban from the United States, but the Porzingis brothers still had to spend the offseason proving to the United States government why they were necessary to Kristaps’ well-being.
No word was available on whether Janis and Martins had successfully returned to the United States. Janis’ Instagram has not had activity since September, while Martins’ most recent post on Twitter referenced a bakery in Latvia.