Jalen Brunson received a standing ovation from the New York home crowd as he trotted onto the court alongside teammates Julius Randle and Obi Toppin — though the Knicks’ big free-agent acquisition wasn’t giving the blue and orange.
Instead, the 25-year-old guard sported a purple jersey with the words “Pro City” spread across the chest. And while his New York City debut didn’t come in front of thousands of screaming fans at Madison Square Garden, the several hundred who gathered in the Hostos Community College facility titled “The Swamp” in The Bronx surely provided him with a warm welcome.
Brunson, Randle and Toppin made a cameo appearance Monday night in the Nike Pro City playoffs — a premier indoor basketball league based in the Big Apple — and gave hopeful Knicks fans a glimpse into what the future may hold.
Minutes after the first whistle had blown, the trio turned in their first of many highlight-reel plays of the night. While running the point on a fast break, Brunson dished the ball behind the back to Randle, who stood unguarded several feet behind the three-point line. Though his shot bounced harmlessly off the back of the rim, it was corralled by a high-flying Toppin, who slammed the ball down with authority and sent the crowd into fervent uproar.
Toppin continued to crash the rim throughout the early portion of the contest, posting 11 points in the first quarter. Moments after putting back another one of his teammates’ missed shots, the 24-year-old forward picked up a loose ball at mid court and pulled off his signature between-the-legs dunk, nearly tearing the rim down and the entire roof off in the process.
Brunson took over in the second quarter with three straight soft finishes at the rim, pulling his team within three points at 38-35. His chemistry with his new Knicks teammates was hard to miss, as the former Maverick tossed a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Toppin, who finished the dish with a two-handed slam.
As the pair ran alongside one another moments later on a fast break, Brunson went up for a dunk only to realize he didn’t have enough height. He instead settled for an awkward layup, sending himself and Toppin into a fit of laughter.
Randle additionally got in on the fun, deploying a stutter-step move in the corner that broke his defender’s ankles and led to an easy dunk along the baseline.
The Knicks stars entered halftime down by one, 53-52. After a strong start to begin the second half that featured two deep threes by Randle and Brunson, they took their first lead of the game at 60-59.
Tensions began to rise in the closing minutes of the third quarter after an opposing player finished in Randle’s face and flexed on the Knicks big man. Several light pushes ensued, to the pleasure of fans in attendance.
Not long after, Randle found himself in another sticky situation. Hunting for a block on the opposing team’s point guard, he went up with the shooter but committed a foul and landed hard on the court. After several seconds on the ground, Randle was able to walk off under his own power and remain in the game.
The Knicks’ starters ended up on the losing end of the final 110-97 score, though they all played well throughout the contest. Toppin led the pack with 25 points, followed closely by Brunson with 24 and Randle with 18.
Following the game, Nike Pro City director Bernard Bowen commended the Knicks trio for the great performance.
“It’s a playoff atmosphere, New York City bragging rights on the line. Guys want to come out and leave it all on the floor, put on a good show for the city,” Bowen said. “You have a lot of kids [here] who can’t afford the opportunity to go to a Knicks game, so for those guys to come and play in that atmosphere where it’s free for the kids, it’s a blessing.”