Julius Randle knew something was wrong with him last March when his young son Kyden began mimicking his anguished demeanor on the court.
Kyden was playing basketball on his miniature hoop and scored while his father gave him, “a little love tap on the play.’’
“And y’all I swear: he turns around, he looks at his mom the ref, and he starts giving her The Look,’’ Randle wrote in his spectacular essay for the Players’ Tribune last week.
“He gives his mom that ‘are you kidding me’ face, throws his arms up in the air, and then starts in on her — you know, like: No call?!? Where’s the call?!?
“And we’re cracking up, of course — we’re like, ‘Oh my goodness. Where’d he learn that? But it’s also like … Oh, damn. He got that from me. That’s how negative I’ve been looking on the court these days. And in all seriousness, I think I realized, like, OK — if I’m making that kind of impression on Kyden, what kind of impression might I be making to all these other younger fans watching me??
“Man, I hated that thought,’’ Randle wrote.
Flash forward a year later and Randle and family were in Atlanta this weekend as a first-time All-Star. His wife Kendra, whom he met at Kentucky, and Kyden, now 4 years old, were to sit courtside at State Farm Arena on Sunday night.
That’s how fast life can change as a Knick.
“I don’t know if he understands it fully,’’ Randle said before playing for Team Durant in Sunday night’s contest. “He definitely has a good idea of everything that’s going on. He’s enjoying it. He definitely knows it’s something that’s not normal and cool. He’s definitely loving that. He loves walking around saying he’s an all-star kid. He’s enjoying it.’’
Ironically, Kyden was heard crying in the background briefly on the Zoom call. Randle admitted he didn’t know why, but certainly it’s not because his father failed to make him proud.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said entering the All-Star break Randle is playing like an “All-NBA player.” Three All-NBA teams are announced after the season and Randle’s numbers — if they keep up — could easily get him there if the Knicks make the playoffs.
Randle, 26, admitted on a recent podcast he cried when learning coaches had voted him as an All-Star reserve for the Eastern Conference.
“It was more, as much as being named All-Star, it was more the journey,’’ Randle said Sunday. “Appreciate the seven years so far in the league, the journey and process, year after year and the grind, hard work, sacrifice, commitment through the process. It made me reflect and appreciate that process more than anything.’’
The Knicks are in fifth place in the East thanks to Randle’s ironman will.
He hasn’t missed a game. He has averaged 23.2 points, 11.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists. He has spent the past two weeks in profound thought on how he was so disappointed in himself failing as a leader in his first season during last season’s Knicks’ mess.
Now you can call the Knicks leader, Captain Randle, though Thibodeau doesn’t believe in bestowing titles.
“It means a lot — it’s a responsibility I truly enjoy,’’ Randle said. “A lot of things about my way of leadership is to be vocal, but I try to lead by example — how I approach work and study the game. Do the things the right way. It’s a great responsibility I love to have. Hopefully in the second half I’ll continue to do that and be the best leader I can. Hopefully it translates to wins.’’
Ironically, when the Knicks made Obi Toppin their lottery pick in November, there was speculation he could supplant Randle as starting power forward.
It seems so silly now. Toppin has proven to be a terrific dunker but he’s clearly Randle’s student. Sunday at halftime, “Air Obi’’ was to be one of the three participants in the slam dunk contest.
Randle was scheduled for the pregame “Skills Challenge.’’ Saturday night, Randle saw the slam dunk practice prior to getting on the court with the skills competitors.
“Obi is winning the dunk contest for sure,’’ Randle said during his noon Zoom call. “What I saw yesterday it was absolutely nuts, insane. I’m definitely willing to bet he’s going to win the dunk contest and do a great job and represent New York well.”
And Randle wanted to have fun, too, Sunday in battling against Team LeBron.
“I want the experience to resonate because I want to do it more times,’’ Randle said.