When you try to fit a massive move around an insanely busy schedule, sometimes you forget a few things along the way.
That’s what happened to Kristaps Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas, three of the Knicks’ young European imports who never found time to obtain a New York State driver’s license upon relocating to the States. Now, after putting it off for months (we've all been there), they’re finally going to class and earning their license just like teenagers.
For Hernangomez and Kuzminskas, it’s a race against the clock before their international licenses expire. For Porzingis, who debuted in the NBA in late 2015, that time has already passed.
“My first season, I just didn’t pay attention to it,” Porzingis said. “Now I’ve got to finally get an American license because I want to be here for a long time.”
“They’re just lazy,” teammate Sasha Vujacic—who got his license just a few weeks after moving to the U.S.—quipped.
Between training camp and the rigors of a regular-season schedule, the trio had canceled its plans to get their licenses on multiple occasions. At last, on the afternoon of Jan. 26, Porzingis, Hernangomez and Kuzminskas made time on their day off following a flight home from Dallas. Hours after arriving in Westchester, a team car picked them up and brought them up to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Peekskill, N.Y.—rated just a 2.8 out of 5 on Google—where they’d begin the process of getting their license with a 20-question computerized test.
Upon entering, the real-life giants were immediately recognized by some fans inside, turning the room’s mood from a depressing lull to a state of excitement. It was the EuroKnicks’ first day back at school, and the atmosphere matched it.
“It was their most exciting day there,” said Hernangomez.
The forwards sat down in the same strangely–silent room, mere feet from each other. At their adjacent lockers back in Manhattan, they’d be deep into conversation. After answering each question on a tiny LED touch screen, their result was immediately returned to them in the form of a giant green checkmark or red ‘X.’ It helped them track their progress, but with the three answering a number of questions wrong, it also made them sweat just a little.
“As you press the button, that half a second seems like half an hour,” Kusminskas said.
The 27-year-old Lithuanian—nine years removed from his first written driving exam in his home country—and Porzingis answered the minimum 14 of 20 questions correctly, just one wrong answer away from failing.
“I almost messed up,” Porzingis said.
Where did things almost go wrong? In a pinch, the conversion from kilometers to miles wasn’t so easy, and Kuzminskas admitted he was quizzed on some road signs “that you haven’t used for the last nine years.”
Hernangomez—the only one of the three who didn’t feel the need to study for the test—was a tad more relaxed toward the end of the test, finishing with 15 right answers.
“I was driving in Spain for five years,” he said. “This is easy.”
Only in Spain, driving wasn’t quite as hard as it is in Manhattan, where you frantically check your surroundings at all times and sit in soul-crushing traffic jams.
“It’s difficult. In Spain, you take care of yourself. Here, you have to take care of the other cars,” Hernangomez said. “It’s just a lot of traffic. I hate the traffic. I have to go, stop, go, stop.”
The three frontcourt players will now have to prove to a DMV instructor what they already know—they can drive. After sitting through a required five-hour class complete with videos and lectures about the roads, each of them will hop in a vehicle for their road test. If they pass, their long journey to earn a New York license will finally conclude. It’s not a difficult task when you’re working a nine-to-five, or a full-time student, but it’s a bit more difficult when you play in the NBA.
“Our schedule’s pretty tough, and you can’t go there anytime you want,” Kuzminskas said.
When they do get there, the odds are stacked in their favor. If they can nail three-point shots at The Garden, nailing a three-point turn should be a piece of cake.