Knicks fans give Gallinari his own jeering section on draft night

Originally Published: June 26, 2008
By Patrick Parker | ESPN.com

Danilo GallinariDavid Dow/Getty ImagesItalian forward Danilo Gallinari talks after being greeted with boos from many Knicks fans.

NEW YORK -- Confusion, anger, resentment and utter sadness.

This was the emotional roller coaster many Knicks fans went on Thursday night at the WaMu Theatre at Madison Square Garden during the 2008 NBA draft.

When NBA commissioner David Stern came to the microphone to announce the No. 6 pick, the theatre became silent as he began to utter those magic words that would ring throughout the night in the ears of Knicks fans: "With the sixth pick in the NBA draft, the New York Knicks select Danilo Gallinari."

As quickly as last season went south for the Knicks, the theatre became a mob of fans ready to direct their built-up frustration at the 6-foot-9 Italian.

Hats were ripped off and thrown to the ground, replica jerseys were tugged and twisted, and echoes of "This can't be happening" filled the theatre.

But even with the barrage of boos being sent his way, the Italian remained unfazed. Gallinari walked right up to Stern, shook his hand, posed for a picture and continued on, impervious to the boos that shook the walls of the theatre.

"It's a dream for me and I really don't know what to say," Gallinari said. "I'm so excited and happy to be here."

He doesn't blame the Knicks fans for booing him, saying, "It's a part of the game, all of the players have got to hear this. Not every time you can hear good things. So it's normal here."

After the draft, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said he believed Gallinari was the best player available.

Unlike many Knicks fans, D'Antoni knows the name Gallinari very well because he played with his father Vittorio in Italy. But for Knicks fans who have no idea who Danilo Gallinari is, he has been compared to a Dirk Nowitzki- or Toni Kukoc-type with a good basketball IQ.

"I will try to bring my European game, also here, and Mike D'Antoni played many, many years in Europe," said Gallinari, who expects to be a good fit with the Knicks' new coach.

This past season, Gallinari played for Armani Jeans Milano in the Italian League, averaging 14.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 31 minutes in Euroleague play. He also averaged 17.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in the Italian league.

It's a part of the game, all of the players have got to hear this. Not every time you can hear good things. So it's normal here.

--Danilo Gallinari on his first booing by Knicks fans

These numbers are all good on paper, but Knicks fans want to know if Gallinari can succeed at this level -- and if he doesn't start out strong and the boos continue, can he handle it?

But even if draft day unhappiness seems old hat to Knicks fans, 2007 was a different story.

When the draft-day trade of Zach Randolph from Portland was announced last year, the theatre became electric. Things seemed to be getting better in New York. But the regular season again was filled with one bad day after another.

And yet again, the Knicks dangled hope in front of their fans in 2007-08: Their cries of "Fire Isiah" were heard when Donnie Walsh was hired as team president. He brought in D'Antoni from the Phoenix Suns. Then the draft lottery brought the Knicks their highest lottery pick since Kenny "Sky" Walker was selected fifth overall in 1986.

It all seemed to be getting better for the Knicks and their fans, including those waiting here Thursday, anticipating the pick.

Entering the WaMu Theatre, New York fans showed their excitement. Their heads were filled with dreams of the Knicks making up for the past four miserable years of basketball by making moves to turn it around -- like the champion Boston Celtics did this past season.

Fans couldn't help but salivate at the possibility of a colossal trade. Maybe they could move up to one of the coveted top spots and get one of the guards they so desired. Or at worst pick up a player to build around.

But as the draft went on, things weren't going at all like many Knicks fans were hoping: no big trade, the top guards were taken, and then Gallinari was chosen.

Many New York fans wanted a superstar the team could build around for the future. The boos made it clear they don't believe Gallinari is that man.

When Stern was getting ready to announce the pick, some in the crowd shouted, "Eric Gordon and Jerryd Bayless!" Some went as far as saying they would stop being Knicks fans if "the Italian was chosen."

This night started out with dreams filling the theatre.

Gallinari had been dreaming about this night since he picked up a basketball. But for many Knicks fans, they were dreaming too, dreaming that draft nights filled with disappointment were in the past.

There was only one fulfilled dream on this draft night.

Patrick Parker can be reached at patrick.d.parker@espn3.com.