Obi Toppin unplugged: ‘Heartbreaking’ adversity, dream Knicks legacyNovember 20, 2020
Still reveling in landing on the Knicks, who selected him with the No. 8 pick in the draft, Brooklyn native Obi Toppin played a little one-on-one with Post columnist Steve Serby:
Q: What are your thoughts about Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and sharing the town with the Brooklyn Nets?
A: Yeah, KD and Kyrie, they’re both great players, but the Knicks is the Knicks, so we’re gonna do what we have to do to win more games than they do.
Q: So you think this will be a Knicks town soon?
A: Oh, it will be a Knicks town. For sure.
Q: How soon?
A: This year soon.
Q: How good do you think you can be?
A: I feel like I can be the best player in the world one day. I feel like with my drive and with everyone that I have around me now with the Knicks organization, they’re gonna push me every single day to be great. And I’m gonna take feedback from everybody and learn from every mistake that I … nobody’s perfect, I know there’s gonna be mistakes here and there. So I’m gonna learn from it and get better from it and become a great player one day.
Q: Would you buy a ticket to watch Obi Toppin play basketball?
A: Who wouldn’t? Yeah, of course. I’d spend a million dollars to watch Obi Toppin play.
A: Just because of the excitement I bring to a game. I bring an excitement, I bring love and passion to the game. I’m for the people, so interacting with people, talking to people and just making kids happy, that’s an enjoyable moment.
Q: Who would you want to challenge to a dunk contest?
A: Definitely not Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon (smile). Those two right there had the best dunk contest ever in history. But I feel like Zion [Williamson], because everyone knows him for his dunks also. … Derrick Jones Jr. I feel like those two I would like to challenge.
Q: Your favorite dunk?
A: I think the one against George Washington. That was our Senior Night and that was the third dunk I did in a row … nah the put-back I had against Duquesne. Jalen [Crutcher] shot the 3 from the wing, and it was like all the way out here (reaches back with right arm) and I had to bring my arm all the way out here and dunk it, so that was probably my best dunk.
Q: The first time you dunked?
A: My senior year of high school. When I dunked, I was like, “Uh oh, it’s a problem now ’cause I ain’t laying the ball up no more!” As soon as I got that first dunk, my mindset was every time I can lay the ball up I’m gonna dunk it.
Q: From your Instagram: “Some forgot about me, some stood by me, others are about to witness.” Who forgot about you?
A: I feel like growing up people always told me that I was not gonna make it, and told me that I couldn’t get to college, I couldn’t get to the NBA, and they were like, “OK, we’re not worried about Obi anymore, we know that he’s just gonna be another kid trying to get to the NBA gonna be in the street,” so that’s who forgot about me.
Q: Was that motivation for you?
A: For sure. Every single day I think about that, and that’s why I work so hard.
Q: Who stood by you?
A: My parents, my girlfriend, my brother, all my teammates leading up to this point, that helped me get to this point. … My coaches that helped me get to this point, like all those guys, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today without them.
Q: What are others about to witness?
A: Someone’s whose gonna like change a franchise. I feel like me going to an amazing organization like the Knicks, we have a lot of young guys on the team and we’re gonna grow together and develop together. We have a great coach in Coach Thibs, he’s a great player’s development coach, great defensive coach, and I feel like with those two things, himself and the team can change an organization.
Q: How would you describe your on-court mentality?
A: I’m always trying to get better and learn. When I have someone in front of me it’s like, “You tie your shoes the same way I tie my shoes and you bleed the same way I bleed, and I’m trying my hardest to outwork you.” Every challenge that steps in front of me I’m gonna make sure I accomplish the mission.
Q: How does your on-court mentality compare to Kobe’s?
A: I feel like I have a drive that I want to kill whoever’s in front of me, and I’m either get a bucket on you or I’m gonna help someone on my team get a bucket. I feel like with the mentality Kobe had, nobody can guard him, and I feel like going into every game I want to have that same mentality.
Q: Do you like pressure and the big moments?
A: My whole life was pressure. This is fun to me. Every time I go on the court there’s a smile on my face because I’m blessed with the opportunity to have the God-given gift that God’s given me to play this amazing sport, and put on a show for a lot of people around the world.
Q: Boyhood idol?
A: I would say Kobe. Growing up watching Kobe, and just seeing the mentality he brought for the game. I feel like he brought a different mentality, he had the drive, he had the work ethic, and I feel like that’s who I compare my work ethic to, I feel like I’m in the gym every single day trying to get better. With my personality meeting new people, I tend to ask and make sure that I’m doing the right thing to get better every single day, I’m always gonna ask those veterans and more experienced guys like, “What can I do to be great and get better?”
Q: Where were you when you learned about the tragedy?
A: We just finished playing against George Mason, and me and one of my [Dayton] coaches, Coach [Ricardo] Greer, hopped on a flight to New York the morning it happened going to see my uncle in the hospital, and literally as the plane is taking off, I refreshed the screen for Twitter, and I saw RIP Kobe, RIP Kobe, RIP Kobe, and I’m like, “No way, this is fake.” But then I saw ESPN post it, Bleacher Report post it, and I was showing my coach and a tear came down my eye, and I was like, “No way this is real.” So we land and everybody starts texting me, everybody starts saying, “Did you see what happened to Kobe?” It was devastating.
Q: You can go one-on-one with anyone in history?
A: Michael Jordan. Just because I’ll ask for feedback and ask how to get to where he’s been. He’s a little old guy now, he’s still got some things with him, but he’s Michael Jordan, so …
Q: So you’d want to go against him now, at his current age?
A: Now. Yeah for sure.
Q: How about in his prime?
A: I’ll still go against him in his prime, but at the same time I’ll learn from everything he does to me, so … (Laugh).
Q: How would you like to guard Zion?
A: I feel like it’ll be a good matchup. I think it would have been a fun matchup in college too, Dayton against Duke. It’ll be cool matching up against him.
Q: What impresses you about RJ Barrett’s game?
A: He’s a dog. He’s a tall point guard, he has a very high I.Q., and I feel like me and him is gonna be just like me and Jalen [Cutcher] in college. We’re gonna be the Dynamic Duo that’s gonna help bring the Knicks back together.
Q: Athletes in other sports you admire?
A: Lamar Jackson. People didn’t think he could be who he is today, and he’s proving a lot of people wrong just like I want to do when I get to the NBA.
Q: Was Rucker or Dyckman your favorite park to play in?
A: I would say Dyckman, I feel like Dyckman’s the new Rucker Park now. Like how Rucker Park was back in the day, the most-packed game, everybody played in Rucker Park, that’s always gonna be the legend court. But Dyckman’s starting to get that now. Everybody’s starting to play in Dyckman, everybody’s starting to crowd around Dyckman with the train tracks being right there, the tall buildings, people hanging out their windows, screaming, going crazy … that atmosphere is amazing.
Q: What drives you?
A: Everything that I’ve been through in my past. Every sacrifice that my mom and dad did for me leading up to this point, I owe them. And I’m gonna work every single day so that they’re happy and don’t have to worry about anything ever again.
Q: The biggest adversity you had to overcome?
A: I would say everything that happened with my dad. … It was all new to us and we didn’t know how to handle the situation. … I don’t want to get into detail, but he had to go through way more adversity than I had to go through, and to see him still be a dad, still fight to allow me and my brother [Jacob] to do what we’re doing now, and he’s home with us now, but him allowing us to be in a position that we’re in now, I couldn’t have done it without him.
Q: Was it heartbreaking for you?
A: Yeah, it was definitely heartbreaking. I feel like because we moved so much it was even harder. But my dad always taught me to stay with it, and make sure you, your brother and your mom are straight. I took that strongly, and I made sure I worked every single day to not have to have my mom pay for college, and one day not have to make my mom pay for any bills, so I’m gonna make sure everybody in my family’s good.
Q: You didn’t have a lot growing up. How difficult was it?
A: It wasn’t difficult just because that was the lifestyle I was used to. We have a two-bedroom house, a little apartment in Ossining, New York, and this is one of the biggest houses we lived in other than the house that we had in Florida, but Florida’s cheaper than New York, so us living the way we were living growing up, it allowed me to be where I am today, ’cause I don’t never want my parents or brother to go through this ever again.
Q: Were there things for Christmas you couldn’t get?
A: For sure. But at the same time, my mom and dad did everything they can to allow us to get most of the things we wanted on Christmas.
Q: Describe your mom.
A: A goddess. Without her, I would not be where I am today. She went through so many sacrifices to allow me to be in a position I’m in today, and I’m grateful to have her as my mother. I love her to death.
Q: What did being nicknamed The Second Generation mean to you?
A: It means a lot just because I have to fulfill my father’s footsteps, and I’m not gonna lie — he’s not here right now so I can say this — I think I surpassed his footsteps a little bit (smile).
Q: Tell me about his streetball game.
A: It took me 20 years to be able to beat him. My first year in Dayton, that was the first time I was able to beat my dad one-on-one. He loves the game of basketball, and he’s always gonna try and bully-ball me and play me one-on-one, but I’m a lot bigger, a lot stronger than he is now so he can’t step in front of me no more.
Q: When you had your growth spurt your knees hurt?
A: A little bit of my prep school year, my knees were killing me just because I was growing so fast.
Q: Amar’e Stoudemire?
A: A legend. He’s one of the greats of this amazing sport, and people saying that I play just like him or I’m similar to him, it’s a blessing.
Q: Kevin Garnett?
A: He’s a dog. If I want to be anything like KG, I need to get the defensive side with Coach Thibs and get that dog out.
Q: Anthony Davis?
A: I feel like with the skill set that I have that a lot of people don’t know of yet, I feel like I can be a lot similar to Anthony Davis.
Q: Would you ever wear one of Clyde Frazier’s outfits?
A: He does have some nice suits when he comes to the games. … I don’t know if I would be able to pull off the suits he wears. I think that’s just for him (smile).
Q: What has Coach Thibs told you?
A: Defense, defense, defense (smile).
Q: Myles Powell?
A: That’s my brother for life. Myles works so hard every single day, he’s in the gym every second I’m in the gym. I love Myles to death, and we’re gonna be together every step of the way. I’m gonna push him just like he pushed me these past eight, nine months.
Q: So you think the Knicks got a steal.
A: For sure.
Q: How will you spend your bonus money?
A: I’m a cheap guy, super cheap (chuckle). I already got my mom what I needed to get her, I got her a car (Mercedes C 43) so I’m just gonna get me a house, a car and I’m just gonna settle down.
Q: Four dinner guests?
A: My brother who passed away; Kobe and my mother and father. My brother passed away when I was real young. He had something in his brain that exploded. When he was born, he was going through at Ronald McDonald Houses, and going through all this treatment, and one day it popped, and he passed away.
Q: How old was be?
A: Almost 1 year old.
Q: How old were you?
A: I was only like 3.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: The whole Fast & Furious series.
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Denzel Washington.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Surf and turf.
Q: Tell Knicks fans who Obi Toppin is.
A: He’s someone who loves the people, a huge personality, a very genuine person, loves meeting new people every day, loves putting smiles on kids’ faces and loves putting on a show for everyone … especially children, who grow up and look up to me.
Q: What kind of an impact do you think you can make as a rookie?
A: I feel like I can make a big impact, especially with the organization that I’m with, with Coach Thibs, I feel like we’re all gonna grow and develop together and put New York back on the map and have fun with it.
Q: How realistic is Rookie of the Year for you?
A: Very realistic, especially with everyone I have around me like I said before.
Q: Career goals?
A: I want to win a lot of games, I want to get to the playoffs, get to the Finals and put New York back on the map. For individual I want to be in the Hall of Fame one day. I want to be known as a great, as a legend, and I’m gonna push myself and my teammates to leave another legacy just like we did at Dayton.
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