Why New York City Is Where Julius Randle Is Meant To Be

Julius RandlePhoto Credit: Steven Visneau





Julius RandlePhoto Credit: Steven Visneau

Julius Randle sees Kobe Bryant everywhere.

Does he see the late Black Mamba’s face in slivers of glass or foggy mirrors? Well, no (I don’t think so, at least — this isn’t the Sixth Sense). But Bryant undeniably had such an impact on the New York Knicks power forward that his omniscient presence is omnipresent. (Try saying that one ten times fast.)

“It’s crazy to say, but I see his spirit everywhere, to be honest,” the 27-year-old NBA star shares.

What he means is this: Bryant, whom he played with on the LA Lakers from 2014-2016, left one hell of an indelible impression, to the point that Randle still pulls a ‘What would Kobe do?’ to this day.

When I press him to explain (lest fans believe he really is seeing Bryant’s ghost), he says, “For me, seeing Kobe means being mindful, and being aware, knowing what’s going on around you. Whether it’s training, discipline, or anything else, I’m able to always draw back to the things that he said.” He pauses, and adds, “I mean, those things didn’t click when I was a 20-year-old kid, but man, that shit makes sense now. And the lessons he taught me are everywhere.”

Randle was definitely green when he joined the NBA, and very, very young (as well as very, very tall at 6’8”). After one season playing college ball with the Kentucky Wildcats (where he was named a third-team All-American), he opted to go pro; he was then chosen by the Lakers as the seventh overall pick in the first round of the 2014 draft. As a 19-year-old kid, still wet behind the ears, it’s no wonder he was so impressionable. Plus, most people never get to meet their heroes. And, if that old adage is true, maybe you shouldn’t — though Bryant is clearly an exception given the depth and breadth of his impact. 

“I mean, he was already my idol growing up, so everything I learned in the beginning was from watching him on TV, from a distance. But after meeting him, playing with him, he really helped me learn to fall in love with the process of it all, to see my career as a journey, not a destination. I was fortunate enough to play with Kob and learn a lot from him, but my biggest takeaway was having that mentality, that ‘Mamba mentality.’ And so, every year, I go back and reevaluate things, see how I can be better, how I can improve, be a better teammate, be more efficient. I’m constantly reminding myself that I could be pushing myself harder physically and mentally,” Randle admits.

And apparently, the Mamba mentality has paid off: in 2021, Randle earned the title of NBA Most Improved Player, an outstanding achievement for someone seven years into his career. In part, this is why Bryant provides, to this day, even posthumously, a benchmark of what Randle himself aspires to be, every single day. “He taught me that there were going to be ups and downs, but to stay the course and remember my ‘why,’ to never forget my end goal. So I do try to imitate him in certain ways, follow certain things he did. For me, that means having a solid work ethic. I always pride myself on being the hardest worker in anything that I do, and I feel like I get a lot of that from him. I think because I not only grew up idolizing him, but also got to be around him, and study him, that his fabric is within me.”

Last, but not least, “He taught me that winning was the most important thing, always the number one priority.”

Julius RandlePhoto Credit: Steven Visneau

Clearly a championship win is something each player shoots for, but for Randle, it’s everything — just as it was for his hero. “It’s always number one for me, but it’s really not for everybody in the league. Sometimes meeting a personal goal or just getting to play is more important for some people. But for me, everything I do in life is for a win,” he declares. “How much sleep I’m getting, what I’m eating, what I’m reading, even meditating. I start every day with that, because I know I need to take care of my physical self, but also my mental health, too. I always want it to be geared towards becoming the best version of myself possible, because I want to give us the best possible chance to win every night. Everything that I try to do is geared towards winning for sure.”

That being said, the Knicks haven’t done a lot of winning in the last few years. They closed out the 2021-2022 season with a 37-45 record, missing out on the playoffs for the eighth time in the last nine seasons. But hopefully, this coming season will be one of positive change. The team, which has been built around Randle and young shooting guard RJ Barrett, traded All-Star Kemba Walker and acquired second round draft pick Trevor Keels, center Isaiah Hartenstein, and shooting guard Jalen Brunson.

Randle is here for it, saying of Brunson in particular, “I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction. A point guard was a big need for us. I think Jalen is a huge part of what we’re going to do, especially in that position.” Although he does warn that looking at individual players as opposed to the team as a unit is detrimental, and he personally avoids it, noting, “Winning a championship is a process, and it’s not easy. Some people who have won multiple championships might make it look easy, like Steph [Curry], but it’s not. At this level, everybody is a really good player and [has] played at a high level, so for all of us, the most important thing is coming in and establishing that chemistry, having the belief that every time we step on the court, we can win.”

And Randle does believe he can win. In addition to being a spiritual and religious person, he believes that everything happens for a reason (even the horrific start to his professional career, when, after only 14 minutes of playing his very first game with the Lakers during the 2014-2015 opener against the Houston Rockets, he broke his leg and subsequently sat out the rest of the season). The Dallas-born athlete was meant to win state titles in his freshman, junior and senior seasons at Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, Texas, and meant to play ball at the University of Kentucky so well — he averaged 15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, accumulating 24 double-doubles to set a freshman standard — for one year before making such an impression on the NBA. He believes he was meant to know Kobe, meant to play with the Lakers, and even meant to be traded to the New Orleans Pelicans — because every move he made was meant to lead him right here to New York City to play for the Knicks through 2025; after his breakthrough season with the team, winning the most improved title as well as becoming a reserve for the 2021 All-Star game and being named to the All-NBA Second Team as a forward the same year, he signed a four-year, $117 million contract extension. 

“I believe that God doesn’t make mistakes, that He puts you in places and certain situations for a reason, that He challenges you for a reason. And everything that comes with being in New York is what I’m meant to do and what I’m built for,” he says.

He loves everything about Gotham City, especially now that he’s fully immersed in it, opting to live on the Upper West Side with his family instead of on the fringes in Scarsdale, close to where the team practices in Tarrytown. It’s almost as if he’s experiencing the city for the first time, and as such, his excitement is contagious.

“This is our first year living in the city, and it’s amazing. I loved living in Scarsdale, but you really don’t get to experience the raw energy that New York has there. It’s a great feeling to be in the city on a day-to-day basis and really feel like I’m part of it. I love it. I love the convenience of everything, being able to experience the energy of it. I love the people of the city,” he enthuses.
And that includes Knicks fans in particular. “When I’m in like a flow state, or I’m in the zone, I don’t really hear or see anything, I guess. And while I have always liked fans, it wasn’t until I got to New York that I fully appreciated the difference they can make. The energy in Madison Square Garden is different than playing in any other place.” He pauses. “I remember my first time playing at The Garden. It was my second year in the league, and Kobe’s last. I was like, man, I want to be a Laker for life, but if I can play anywhere else, like, this is definitely the place that I want to be at. If you ask me, ‘Are you meant to be in New York?’ the answer is yes. I know I was always meant to play here. And I’m going to win a championship here, too.”

Julius RandlePhoto Credit: Steven Visneau

RANDLE IS ABOUT TO DEPART for parts unknown with his family on their last pre-season vacation, but he still manages to find time to talk to me late at night from his home in Dallas. The man did say he was efficient, after all, and clearly he meant it.

Right now, we’re talking about what defines him as a player, and a person. He tackles the former first; it is his job to know his strengths and weaknesses, after all.

“As a player, I think what defines me first and foremost is my work ethic, my passion to win, and my ability to never quit. I have a strong desire to improve in every way, and I literally cannot wait to wake up every day and get better. Coming off of every season, it’s always crystal clear to me what I need to work on, and I really just try to take that day by day. I guess you could say that I’m in love with the journey of it all. It’s a process, but the results follow,” he notes.

The proof is in the proverbial pudding given that he had a career-defining moment in 2021 after being named most improved almost unanimously, receiving 98 of 100 first place votes. “Who wins most improved their seventh year in the league?” he wonders. “But honestly, I feel like every year I’m always more improved than the year before. There have been many times throughout my career when I’ve had to prove myself, and I always tell myself, man, you can do whatever you want if you just put your mind to it.”

This determination, the ability to never quit and to lead others with positivity is, he says, also what defines him as a person. “I don’t like talking about myself so much, but everybody that I’ve talked to about me says that my energy is really contagious, that they can feel my spirit. And I do think that I have the ability to bring people together, to light up a room, to make people feel good about what’s going on, or feel good about themselves. So, I try to really tap into that side a lot. 

“But it’s kind of like a double-edged sword, because I wear my heart on my sleeve,” he continues. “I wear my emotions on my sleeve, so if I’m having a bad day, you can tell.” 

Julius Randle
Randle with wife Kendra and sons Kyden and Jayce

Photo Credit: Steven Visneau

Which brings me to what defines Julius Randle the most: his family — his “why” for everything — and his responsibility to them. Wife Kendra, 5-year-old Kyden, and 2-year-old Jayce are his world. In fact, Kyden is a little social media star in his own right, and emulates his father every chance he gets. He also attends every game… which is both wonderful and challenging simultaneously.

“It’s honestly a double-edge sword with that as well because I am, like, his hero. [As an example], last year was a tough year for our team; a tough year all the way around. And my son imitates everything. He sees the good and he sees the bad; he’s just a sponge, taking it all in. So I can’t be arguing with the ref. If I’m arguing with the official, it’s just not a good look, because he sees it, and then he thinks it’s okay.”

That being said, there are good moments too, and these are the ones he obviously wishes his son would replicate. “[Kyden] also sees the joy — everything that goes on behind the scenes — and he sees the results of my hard work. I think that’s the greatest thing for me, being able to give him that experience. And overall, I do it for him, his brother, my wife, my mom, our family. So he gets to see the sacrifices I’ve made, and know that it pays off, too. Being able to experience this journey that I’m on — as a player and all the way around — with him is honestly the best part of it all. So, yes, I’m trying to inspire my son, and my family, but I’m also trying to inspire people in New York. I’m definitely trying to be mindful, and to keep the bigger picture in mind as well.”

And, to bring it on home, that bigger picture involves a trophy. “Like I said, I want to win the championship in New York. I have personal goals that I want to achieve. And right now, I’m appreciating the journey every day even more because I’m realizing how fast it goes. I’ve had those moments in my career where I don’t know what’s next or what’s going to happen, and I’ve proven to myself that I can handle it, that I can depend on myself. Every day that I’m able to make a choice to become better is a good day. God gave me the gift of basketball, and I try to use it to the best of my ability, to wake up every day and try to perfect my craft. So, for me, every day is just about enjoying the journey, and just seeing where that journey takes me.”

I have no doubt that with this mentality, Mamba would be proud.

Julius RandlePhoto Credit: Steven Visneau