People are always scared of the unfamiliar. Most basketball fans are people (I think), so the same can be said for them. And the majority of American NBA fans don't follow international basketball intently. Foreign players are unfamiliar.
It's the chief reason that nearly any time an international prospect is taken in the NBA Draft, fans of that team are immediately skeptical. There's no fanbase more disenchanted with international players on draft night than New York Knicks fans. It's almost at broken record status - thanks to the Knicks' inability to hold on to most of their first round draft picks over the past decade plus: Knicks fans hang around at the draft for four plus hours, sit and watch 40-some odd names called until they finally get their two minutes of true anticipation, hoping to hear a handful of names, and immediately booing and cursing the second they hear a name they can't pronounce come out of Russ Granik or Adam Silver's mouth.
Maybe the 2010 and 2011 drafts - where the Knicks drafted Landry Fields and Josh Harrellson, two rotation players, spoiled Knicks fans into believing that they were destined to find immediate help with every second round choice. It doesn't happen often. And honestly, when you think more deeply about Fields and Harrellson, Fields has declined so much since the middle of his rookie year that you can seriously question whether he's even a bench player on a good team, and Harrellson excited everybody early last year when - under Mike D'Antoni - he hit a few uncontested threes. Chances are both are going to end up like the majority of second round picks do, out of the league before we know it.
So when the Knicks took Greek forward Kostas Papanikolaou with the 48th pick in Thursday's draft, the typical outrage followed. Before we break down the pick of "Big Papa", let's go back in time and look at how the Knicks have fared when they've tested the international waters in the draft. It's pretty obvious why we're going to go in reverse chronological order...we here at SBNation New York save the best for last:
2008 - Danilo Gallinari, 6th overall: Gallinari was a great pick by the Knicks. There was the obvious international skepticism here, especially since there was some favoritism because the Gallinaris and D'Antonis are family friends (D'Antoni played with Danilo's dad in Italy). But Gallinari was a productive Knick in his two-plus years with the team, showing a lot of promise as a scorer. He would have been a nice building block for the future, and he's actually the exact type of player these Knicks can use, but they had to include him in the deal for Carmelo Anthony back in Feburary of 2010. I know many Knicks fans (and probably Ol' Harvey Araton of the New York Times) will tell you that had the Knicks kept Gallinari, Ray Felton, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov instead of shipping them for Anthony, they'd be a better team today. I'm here to tell you that's wrong.
Could have taken: Eric Gordon, Roy Hibbert, Serge Ibaka
2003 - Maciej Lampe, 30th overall; Slavko Vranes, 39th overall: I was at this draft in person, and I'll honestly never forget it. It remains the only time Knicks fans cheered for an international pick - and likely the only time that will ever happen as long as the Earth remains properly on its axis. The Knicks had the ninth pick in 2003 - the draft of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, etc. - and took Georgetown's Mike Sweetney (note that none of those aforementioned were available when the Knicks picked). But all the draft projections had 18-year-old Maciej Lampe of Poland being a sure-fire lottery pick. Comparisons were made to Dirk Nowitzki. Almost seven feet tall, could shoot it from anywhere, etc. And on draft night he started dropping, and dropping, and kept dropping. He was sitting there when the Knicks had the first pick of the second round and they took him, to a rousing applause from the crowd at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. I'll never forget someone's sign that read "LIGHT THE LAMPE".
Lampe never played for the Knicks (although he did average over 17 a game for them in the Vegas Summer League in 2003, woohoo!) and was eventually traded to the Phoenix Suns in The Trade That Sucked The Life Out Of The Knicks For Nearly A Decade - the one that netted Stephon Marbury. Lampe played 64 total NBA games with the Suns, New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets and Houston Rockets and scored 215 total points. After the 2006 season he went back to Europe and has been there ever since. He won the 2010-11 Russian League MVP.
Nine picks after drafting Lampe, the Knicks had another pick. The fans wanted Marcus Hatten of St. John's. Remember him? No? Well you obviously haven't been watching much Dexia Mons-Hainut basketball recently. Shame on you.
The Knicks took a chance on 7-foot-6 project Slavko Vranes out of Montenegro. They didn't give him a ton of time, waiving him in December of 2003. He actually has three whole minutes of NBA experience, getting in one game for the Blazers on Jan. 8, 2004. He missed his only ever NBA field goal attempt and registered one foul. Poor Slavko.
Could have taken: Mo Williams, Kyle Korver, Keith Bogans
2002 - Milos Vujanic - 36th overall: The Knicks capped a brilliant evening - the same night they completed the trade for Antonio McDyess - by taking the point guard Milos Vujanic in the second round. Although, things weren't always looking down as shortly after being drafted, Vujanic was on the 2002 FIBA World Champion Yugoslavian National Team. However he never played in the NBA, and his rights were also part of the Marbury trade in 2004.
Could have taken: Matt Barnes, Rasual Butler, err this draft sucked.
And now, of course...
1999 - Frederic Weis - 15th overall: It's the one that started everything, really. The Knicks had the 15th pick, and a local kid and potential star was right there for the taking. Ron Artest had just come off a great career at St. John's, leading the Red Storm to the Elite Eight just months before. The Knicks picking Artest made so much sense it almost didn't make sense, which is maybe why it didn't happen and Frederic Weis did.
The Bulls took Artest with the next pick. Yes, we now know what we didn't exactly know about Artest back in 1999. He helped cause the league's biggest black eye in 2004 in Detroit with the Malice at the Palace. Also, he's literally out of his mind. But especially early in his career, Artest was your prototypical mid-to-late 90s, early-2000s Knick. He would have been a fan favorite. Weis, never signed with the Knicks and never played an NBA minute. He's most known for being the subject of the greatest posterization in basketball history at the hands of Vince Carter:
Vince Carter Dunk over Weis (best copy) (via supra2k8)
Could have taken: Artest, Andrei Kirilenko, Manu Ginobili (maybe unfair to note since everyone passed on him).
If history repeats itself, we'll probably never see Kostas Papanikolaou suit up for the Knicks. I hope we do, because I want to hear Clyde Frazier try to pronounce "Papanikolaou".