For the second time in barely four months, New York sports has another explanation for a “thumbs-down” controversy involving a star player and local fans.
Knicks forward Julius Randle posted his “regret” on Instagram on Friday evening, one day after the frustrated All-Star explained that his thumbs-down gesture during Thursday’s comeback win over the Celtics — capped off by RJ Barrett’s buzzer-beater — was intended to tell fans at Madison Square Garden to “shut the f–k up.”
“I understand that my actions … represent the league, this organization, and the city, and that I should have handled things [Thursday] night differently and expressed myself with more professionalism and more appropriate language in the heat of the moment,” Randle wrote. “My comment was an example of how sometimes you say things you regret to people you love, even if it came from a place of passion and deep love.
“Nobody wants to win more than me and I will continue to show loyalty and dedication to my teammates, the entire Knicks organization, and the fans who have shown me and my family so much love. I am going to keep focusing on the future.”
Clashing with fans always is an unwinnable fight, but Randle’s response somewhat mirrors the backtracking of Mets players Javy Baez and Francisco Lindor after they — along with Kevin Pillar — were shown directing similar “thumbs-down” motions at booing fans at Citi Field on Aug. 30.
One difference, however, is that Mets owner Steve Cohen and team president Sandy Alderson quickly admonished those involved, calling the practice “unacceptable.” Baez and Lindor then offered their public apologies and explanations before the team’s next game. Later that day, Baez was raucously cheered at Citi Field after helping the Mets to a walk-off victory.
Knicks president Leon Rose and general manager Scott Perry declined comment through the team’s media relations staff. The Knicks, who will face the Celtics again Saturday night in Boston, also held no practice or media availability.
One day after saying, “I really don’t give a f–k what anybody has to say” about his performance this season, Randle heard heavy boos during a poor first half in Thursday’s game against the Celtics. But he helped to reverse the crowd’s reaction by contributing to a frenetic second-half comeback from a 25-point deficit. The 2020-21 All-Star made his thumbs-down gesture following a driving layup in the third quarter, in which he scored 10 of his 22 points.
Afterward, Randle acknowledged the motion was aimed at the Garden faithful, saying in addition to his “STFU” comment: “You saw that. You saw what was going on with that. Forget. Forget.’’
Of course, New York fans might not forget so easily, especially if Randle — who was signed to a four-year, $117 million contract extension last summer — or any other players don’t perform up to expectations.
Regardless, the Knicks’ next home game is scheduled for Monday night against the Spurs, and it will be interesting to note the fans’ reaction to Randle. He was showered with chants of “MVP” throughout the team’s turnaround last season in qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2013, but he and the team have been booed often during their 19-20 first half this season.
“Just want to send a quick message to our fans and be clear — I love NYC and being a part of this team and this franchise,” Randle’s post began. “And like most Knicks fans, I am really passionate about us being successful.
“My family and I love how the fans and New Yorkers have embraced and accepted us and have made us feel great about our decision to commit long-term with the team this past summer. This support means the world to us.”
In addition to the Mets’ incident last season, the local sports landscape has had its share of athletes unsuccessfully taking on local fans.
Former Yankees pitcher Jack McDowell flipped the middle finger to a booing crowd at the Stadium as he departed the mound after a poor outing in 1995, earning him the classic Post headline, “The Yankee Flipper.” Mets shortstop Rey Ordonez called Mets fans “stupid” in 2002, and the three-time Gold Glove winner was traded that offseason.
Earlier this week, Giants defensive lineman Leonard Williams admitted he was surprised to win the annual Good Guy Award from the media, in part, because he also had complained in October about booing fans at MetLife Stadium.