There are four steps that lead up to the swanky bar area of The Redeye Grill in Midtown Manhattan. Kristaps Porzingis only needs one interminable leg of his 7-foot frame to clear the entire set. His large right paw completely engulfs that of a layperson, like the average adult shaking hands with a newborn baby. As he strolls towards a table at the back of the restaurant, the entire wait staff, all dapperly dressed in cocktail attire, stares.
“With the draft, it’s all exciting. Just coming here, with all the attention, walking down the street and people staring at me and stuff, it’s exciting for me. People want to know me,” Porzingis says. “Stop staring so much,” he jokingly says. “You look at short people, you look at tall people, you look at fat people, we’re all different.”
Porzingis is certainly different. Of all the players considered potential lottery picks in the 2015 NBA Draft, he’s the most intriguing and mysterious prospect of them all. Emmanuel Mudiay has been bequeathed Dante Exum’s “International Man of Mystery” title from a year ago, yet Porzingis faces far more skepticism and doubt.
While Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor battle for the Timberwolves’ faith at No. 1, many draft experts have appealed Prozingis should be in that conversation. His rare ability at 7 feet might make him a generational-type player. And still, there’s the very real possibility the youngster may never be able to develop beyond his toothpick frame, leading Porzingis down a dark, spiraling path towards Bustville. He’s one of the most polarizing figures the NBA draft has seen in years.
Amidst a tiresome media tour on Tuesday, the 19-year-old Latvian sat down with SI.com for an exclusive interview to talk all things draft and give a little more insight into Kristaps Porzingis the person as well.
SI.com: Let’s forget about basketball for a second. What’s your favorite food?
Kristaps Porzingis: Filet mignon. I just had some. I love it. I love it.
Who’s your favorite musical artist?
KP: Drake... Drake, no doubt.
KP: What I’ve said in previous interviews was Friday. I like Friday a lot.
Do you have a celebrity crush?
KP: Rihanna. [laughs] Definitely Rihanna.
That might be unique in Latvia but you’re going to have a lot of competition for her affection in the NBA.
KP: [Laughs] Yea, I’m aware of that.
Favorite city you’ve traveled to?
KP: I love Barcelona. Barcelona is a very, very nice city.
What’s your number one hobby outside of basketball?
KP: Just hanging out at the beach... I love playing ping pong.
If basketball didn’t exist and you had to choose another profession, what would you do?
KP: I would play basketball if they didn’t pay me, but I guess I’d have to be a professional ping pong player [laughs].
So you’re really good at ping pong? A lot of NBA teams play after practice and off days when they just watch film.
KP: Oh yea—I can play.
Favorite guilty pleasure food on the one day your brother lets you cheat?
KP: I can’t think of one because the nutritionist who worked with our team just told me to eat a lot [laughs]. Anything... That’s what she told me. But, um, maybe some hamburgers. I don’t know. I try to eat as healthy as possible and try to put some weight on.
So, what’s your favorite dessert, then?
KP: Oh, it has to be cheesecake. No favorite flavor, just a regular one with strawberries.
What’s the first purchase you’ll make when you sign an NBA contract?
KP: I don’t have anything in mind, actually. I just want to buy some gifts and something cool for my mom and my dad and my brothers, you know? That’s the best feeling, when you can give back.
Favorite basketball player?
Did you have a team growing up that you rooted for?
KP: I loved the Lakers in '09 and 2010. I used to get up early with my brother Janis and we watched them win the titles. It was just because of Kobe and Pau. The Celtics, the Magic with Dwight Howard, they were good. They were good for sure. But Kobe and Pau? That was my team.
Do you tune in to NBA games regularly, like log on to your computer at 4 a.m. to watch a live stream?
KP: Yea, sure. I ordered the Canal Plus, so I can watch the playoffs because they show almost every game. I had a little different routine: I went to bed later so I could watch the games and I got up a little later since we didn’t have practice in the morning.
So who do you have in the Finals?
KP: Cleveland in 7.
That would be on the road in Golden State—
KP: That’s how it’s going to go. I think LeBron’s going to do it all. If the guys play the same way they did in the conference finals, I think Cleveland is going to win.
Is there anything you’ve learned about the NBA from watching the playoffs?
KP: Sure, man. Everything changes when it’s the playoffs. The regular season, you know, guys play, but in the playoffs it’s a different story. Guys play so hard, they hustle for every ball. Guys get injured more. It’s playoff basketball. I love the fighting. I love the contact. I love how the refs let them play. It’s more physical. It’s fun.
You definitely seem like a guy who wants to be challenged and compete against the best.
KP: Sure, I want to compete against those guys. It’s the best league in the world, I want to compete against the best players in the world. I’m very excited to be a part of it.
Did you watch any college basketball this season?
KP: I got a chance to watch a little of Wisconsin, a little bit of Gonzaga because Sabonis played there and I wanted to see that guy play in college, but not too much. I just watched the highlights of the guys who are in the draft, too, but I didn’t get to watch a lot of full games.
Who’s the most impressive guy in the draft that you’ve seen tape on?
KP: I didn’t really see that much but I like Karl-Anthony Towns. He’s a great athlete, huge body, he’s a great player.
Some draft experts say if you played college basketball, you’d be in the conversation with Towns and Jahlil Okafor for the No. 1 overall pick. How much do you know about their games to compare yourself to those two guys?
KP: It’s hard to compare because we play different leagues, ACB and college, so it’s hard to compare. But, I think they’re great players. I can’t really say who’s better or not.
Is it an advantage for you having played against a lot of grown men professionally for a few years?
KP: Sure. I mean, I’ve been playing professionally for two and a half years. I think it’s going to be an advantage for me. I’ve learned from a lot of professionals from Europe, great professionals and not only what they do on the court, but off the court and other routines to keep themselves ready, prepared for the games.
What NBA player would you compare yourself to?
KP: I love how Anthony Davis plays. I have a lot of work to do to get close to his level. I try to learn from him. He’s playing incredible right now. He’s one of the guys I look up to. I would love to play against him. He’s going to be really hard to guard, but I’m really looking forward to playing against him.
All this media attention you’re getting must be crazy? How are you handling it?
KP: I kind of was expecting a few interviews here and there but this is kind of crazy. A lot of interviews, a lot of media stuff, but I try to enjoy it as my brother told me to and just not think about it as a job, but just go there and have fun and let people get to know me better.
You talked about your brother, Janis. One thing I don’t think a lot of people know about his how special a relationship you guys share. How important has he been in your life?
KP: He’s very special. He’s my mentor on and off the court. We watch a lot of tape together. Whatever happens outside of basketball he gives me advice, he’ll be there to support me in whatever I need.
What do you remember of his own playing career?
KP: It was tough for him, actually. He had a tough, tough road to become a professional. He’s one of the hardest working people in the world. He does everything 100 percent. It took a lot of work to actually get to a certain level where he was a professional and he made money. That’s very good for me because he’s gone through those tough moments and he’s had a tough career and when I have a tough moment, he’s there to help me and give me advice because he’s already been through that. He’s an unbelievable person. He’s so disciplined. He helps me understand what I have to do to get to where I need to be.
Which one of your skills do you think will translate the best to the NBA right away?
KP: First of all, I think a lot of guys are worried that Europeans might not have the heart and the passion about the game—but that’s the first thing that I have. I love the game, I’m a student of the game, it’s important if you want to have a long, successful career in the NBA. As far as my skills, I’m a really tall guy who can shoot, who can stretch the floor, who can drive, who has a face-up post game. I would say my shot is one of my best skills.
People have speculated what position you’ll be best at in the NBA. But where are you most comfortable on the floor?
KP: My favorite position? I’d have to say four man.
On the court, what’s been your biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
KP: When I was 15 I had anemia. I had problems with low iron in my blood. I just couldn’t run. I would run for two minutes and I’d be dead tired. I didn’t sweat at all. That was one of the toughest things. I was only 15 and I didn’t know what the problem was until they fixed it. Then I started feeling better physically and after that I could actually play on the court and that’s when things got easier. A lady who worked for the first team at that point, the ACB team, she said we should try to do a blood test. That’s when they found the really low iron levels in my blood and I was feeling so sleepy all day and it was terrible. Thanks to her we fixed the problem and I could start playing at a better level.
What are you most looking forward to about this whole process?
KP: I’m excited for everything. The media, just getting my name out there, letting people get to know me, and showing the GMs and scouts my skills at our pro day. I’m very excited. And then, of course, my family is going to come for the draft. We’re going to be all together, it’s going to be a big event.
Will this be the longest you’ve been away from your family?
KP: Oh, no. I played in Spain for three years by myself when I was 15. I went back home for Christmas and for the summer, but I was away for a long time. This was emotional saying goodbye to my family now, but it’s good that they’ll come for the draft and we’ll all be together.
Are you the kind of guy that if you end up going, let’s say No. 8, you’re going to keep tabs on the guys that went 1-7 and that’ll push you and motivate you?
KP: No, it doesn’t matter. I have to prove myself whatever pick I get drafted. I have to show the people I’m not soft, I’m not the stereotype, whatever people think about Europeans.
You’ve mentioned the stereotype of being soft several times. Is that the number one thing you want to disprove about your scouting report?
KP: I don’t want people to label me as soft because I’m not. That’s the number one thing that comes to my mind right now, for sure. There are a million different opinions of people comparing me to some Europeans that didn’t do well in the NBA and some Europeans that did do well in the NBA. People have a lot of opinions, but I just have to keep working, stay focused.
What do you have to work on the most on the court?
KP: I just have to keep working on all my skills. I don’t do anything perfect. I have to work on my shot, dribbling, post moves. My biggest weakness? I have to get better in the low post, you know? I’m not a low post guy, I’m not a banger inside. I’m more of a face-up guy. It would be good to learn some low post moves, some counter moves. I need to get stronger obviously. I’ve got a lot of work to put in.
Do you want to play with your back to the basket at some point? Some people have you projected strictly as a perimeter-oriented guy.
KP: Absolutely. If in the future, when I get stronger, they see me as a five, I could play the five, play in the low post. I’m a versatile player so I want to be able to play multiple positions.
How much more weight do you think you could realistically put on in muscle?
KP: I mean, 240, 250, maybe. I feel great. Maybe I can even be 260 one day, you know? I have to see if can put on that weight and still be as fast as I am now, and as athletic as I am.
How much do you weigh now?
KP: 105 kilos, what’s that? [Laughs]. No, that’s about 230.
What’s been your best memory on the court so far throughout your career?
KP: It has to be last season when we made it to the playoffs with the winning basket from Marcus Landry, Carl Landry’s brother. Scott Bamforth shot a three, we were tied at that point. Everybody’s like “Awww!” And then he got the rebound and dunked over somebody on a tip dunk to win the game. We made it to playoffs and everybody went crazy.