#360USA: Early must learn from his escape

Steve Brenner 09:22 04/01/2016
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Lucky escape: Cleanthony Early.

It’s one of the oldest adages in sport. As a wise sage must have undoubtedly said, “never, under any circumstances, find yourself outside a strip joint at 4am.”

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New York Knicks forward Cleanthony Early ignored that particular rule – and nearly paid for that mistake with his life. Just hours after the 24-year-old contributed to the Knicks’ win against the Detroit Pistons at Madison Square Garden (he played for just 60 seconds), he then capped off an evening out with his girlfriend Ilian Douge by visiting a gentleman’s club in a shady part of Queens. Certainly, not one of his greatest ideas.

And, as the evening rolled towards dawn, disaster soon followed. The Uber taxi he ordered was ambushed. Six men, some of them masked, jumped from two cars and pulled out a semi-automatic firearm. The baller immediately capitulated to his assailants, handing over $9,000 worth of jewelry, including some of his gold tooth caps, and a bundle of cash.

Early, despite standing at an imposing six-foot eight inches, was a mugging waiting to happen. That, however, wasn’t enough. The attackers inexplicably wanted blood. And, when Early was shot in the right knee — which had already underwent surgery last November – it flowed everywhere.

Incredibly, an MRI scan revealed the bullet passed clear through without nestling in the joint itself. Lucky is an understatement. The sophomore pro’s return is expected next month.

Yet, this torrid tale isn’t finished with a grizzly stick-up. Less than 24 hours later, Cityscapes (brilliantly dubbed a “jiggle joint” by New York City tabloids) was at the centre of another crime.

The club was firebombed with Molotov cocktails in what was believed to be an attempt to destroy CCTV footage of the previous night’s trouble. However, it was a futile attempt to destroy evidence because the police already had the video footage in their possession — and, just another footnote in an odd end to 2015 for the Knicks.

Two weeks ago, Derrick Williams — owning bling worth $750,000 — had his loot stolen by two women whom he’d whisked home from a nightclub to woo at his plush Tribeca apartment.

“It’s clear they’re the victims; they didn’t break any laws,” said coach Derek Fisher, who was involved in a love triangle bust-up in October which saw Matt Barnes of the Memphis Grizzlies drive 95 miles to confront him – an act which earned him a two-game ban. Nevertheless, Fisher is correct – to a point.

No one is urging highly paid, easily recognised sporting stars to live like monks in their swanky metropolitan mansions. Are curfews the answer perhaps? Common sense really should prevail. Early had enjoyed the first part of his evening at a popular restaurant in Manhattan’s trendy Lower East Side. To then traipse to a Queens strip club was only inviting trouble for a man whose young life has been littered with incomprehensible anguish and violence.

Cousin Ezekiel was shot and murdered following an argument, forcing Early’s mother to move him and his brother Jamel from the violence-riddled Bronx during their teenage years. In 2010, Jamel died at age 32 after drowning in Schoharie Creek in upstate New York.

The family has endured so much heartache that Sandra Glover, the mother, refuses to answer her phone at night, fearing more bad news. It struck again last week.

Practice on Wednesday was cancelled, allowing the squad to visit their injured, yet thoroughly relieved team-mate.

“A couple of guys went in pairs, threes, but most of the guys went to go see him,” said an emotional Carmelo Anthony who momentarily broke down in a press conference. “He’s good, relatively speaking. But he’s in good spirits. It was good to see everybody come through. That definitely put a smile on his face. He’ll be back soon.

“Basketball is very therapeutic. You can’t control what happens off the court, but when you come to practice, it’s all about basketball. It’s therapy.

“It puts a lot of things into perspective. I know I always talk about perspective, but that right there puts a lot of things in perspective,” added Anthony, who is a strong advocate of banning the sale of guns and recently appeared in an NBA campaign aimed at curing one of America’s deadly social problems.

“You definitely can’t take nothing for granted, and this is a situation where it makes you re-evaluate a lot of things in life.”

Early posted a picture on Instagram to assure everyone of his desire to make a full comeback. Yet questions were still being asked.

“They were at a strip club? I’ve got to talk to her because I told her to stay away from those places,“ said Douge’s father Mario. Perhaps he should call her boyfriend too.

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