NY Knicks Star Josh Hart Has Wine & Winning On His Mind

JOSH HARTPhoto Credit: Nick Garcia







JOSH HARTPhoto Credit: Nick Garcia

Josh Hart is such a Boy Scout. OK, so that came out the wrong way, but it is true: the New York Knicks star shooting guard is a bonafide Eagle Scout, the highest rank a guy can get from the organization. It’s a badge of honor he’s worn, albeit sometimes begrudgingly, since his 18th birthday.

This doesn’t just casually come up in conversation, by the way. It’s in his bio. I’m almost obligated to ask about it. Almost as obligated as Hart felt to his dad, to whom he pledged an allegiance to become a Scout in the first place, in order to (according to the group’s mission statement) “prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”

“When I was a little kid, I did it just because my big brother [Moses Joseph] did it; I was the little brother tagging along kind of thing. As I got older and started liking basketball more and more, I just started focusing all my attention on that. I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore,” the 28-year-old athlete explains over Zoom from the Philippines in early September, where he’s currently playing in the FIBA Basketball World Cup for Team USA. “But my dad considered me initially saying I wanted to become an Eagle Scout to be a binding promise, even though I was kind of like ‘whatever’ about it.” But one day, after high school practice in his hometown of Silver Spring, Maryland, his father, Moses, made a surprise stop at one of the Boy Scout meetings. “I was like, Yo, what are we doing? And he was like, ‘You made me a promise, and you’re going to finish what you started.’ And I’m sitting there going, Bro, I don’t want to do this. I’m focused on basketball. I do not have time for this.

But somehow, with some inner well of resilience (and because his father threatened that if he didn’t fulfill his promise, then 16-and-a-half-year-old Hart would have to miss out on things he actually cared about, like playing ball), he found the time to do both. And although he may not have been the biggest fan of Scout training at the time, Hart is now both proud and pleased with what he’s achieved because — wait for it — the discipline he found helped him with what he loves the most: basketball.

“I was able to finish it, and looking back, it was actually cool because it helped me in terms of time management, leadership, and having the strength of character to finish what I started, even though it might not be something I wanted to do at the time,” he maintains now. “Being able to finish something that wasn’t easy, to keep a promise, helped me to build character big time.”

So, no regrets. But how could there be? It’s part of his story, after all.

“It definitely helped me become who I am,” he admits, before sharing that successfully managing his time — moving up the three to four ranks necessary to complete his mission, all while dedicating the right kind of time and attention to his burgeoning basketball career — wasn’t easy. “If you missed one deadline by even two weeks, it would throw everything off, and I wouldn’t [have made it] by my 18th birthday, which was the cutoff,” he discloses. “So, it definitely helped with time management, but it also taught me how to deal with adverse situations. It taught me to push myself, to fight through. And then, on the other side, I was able to see the beauty of the journey.” 

That being said, “Boy Scout” certainly isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when Hart describes himself. He looks straight at the camera and lifts one corner of his mouth ever-so-slightly. “I’d describe myself as a ‘polite a**hole,’” he laughs. “That’s kind of how I view myself.”

Perhaps that’s something he learned during his high school days as well, before he started playing college ball at Villanova University. Off the court, he was a Boy Scout. On the court, well, that’s always been a different story. [Although, in a way, they are also concurrent: Hart is the only Eagle Scout to ever start on an NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship team.]
“I’m extremely competitive,” he explains. “I’m fiery, I’m passionate, and sometimes that passion teeters into aggression. So, I could be cursing out a ref one minute, and five minutes later, after I’m done, I’ll walk up and go, like, Sorry Curtis, that’s my bad. I was wrong. I didn’t mean to do that. Do you know what I mean? I’m sure my wife [of two years, Shannon, whom he’s been with since their sophomore year of high school] could probably tell you a thousand stories of me giving her attitude for no reason and apologizing after. My friends, too. They’d probably say ‘polite a**hole’ is the perfect way to define me.”

Well, professionally, at least, it’s working for him. At Villanova, his ‘spirited’ game fueled the team to a National Championship in 2016. Afterward, he received the honor of having his #3 Wildcats jersey officially retired. This was followed by numerous accolades, including the Big East Sixth Man of the Year (2015), 2x First-Team All-Big East (2016, 2017), Big East Player of the Year (2017), the Julius Erving Award (2017), and Consensus First-Team All-American (2017). Coming off a star-studded senior year, he was then selected as the 30th overall pick at the 2017 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers, followed by stints on the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, and his current team, the New York Knicks, with whom he just signed a monster, four-year, $81 million extension. In the interim, he was selected in the first round of the 2017 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz with the 30th overall pick before being immediately traded to the Lakers on draft night, made his career playoff debut, recording a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds, along with two assists and a steal in a game 1 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers this year, and was elected to play on Team USA for the FIBA World Cup.

But at home? Well, that’s a different story. He’s now a father to newborn twin boys Haze and Hendrix. And believe it: he does not want those kids growing up like him, though he’s also realistic that he might be unable to prevent it. “I guess I’ll have to see what their personalities are because my dad definitely only taught me the polite part, but my personality came out on its own. The a**hole part just kind of came out naturally. But either way, I hope they at least have the polite part down as they grow up.”

JOSH HARTPhoto Credit: Nick Garcia

Given that they’re being raised as both Miamians and New Yorkers, the jury is still out. Hart and his brood are based in Coral Gables, Florida, in the off-season, and in-season, call Greenwich, Conn., home. This has the added bonus of being much closer to his parents, who haven’t missed more than one home game in the entire time he’s been playing in the Big Apple (and only then because his fate, now decided with the aforementioned monster contract, was, at one point, hanging in the balance). They may be even closer still, he says, given that Moses and his mom, Pat, are considering moving to Hoboken or Jersey City to be closer to their son and his family.

“Being in the city is a blast,” he admits. “I love getting to see my family so much, especially now, with kids. You get help, and you get to see family at the same time. I also have a host family I lived with in high school for a year-and-a-half, who live in Jersey, so I get to see them all the time. For me, this is really the perfect situation, because off the court, I get all those benefits of family. Plus, I’m an East Coast kid at heart, and my playing style is very New York in terms of being blue-collar, hard-working, and doing the little things. It’s one of the cities I’ve always wanted to play in.”

He recalls a conversation he had during the pandemic that ended up indelibly inked in his psyche. Hart was sitting around drinking wine in the NBA Bubble with now-retired former teammate Carmelo Anthony, as well as JJ Redick and Kyle O’Quinn, when Melo made a throwaway comment that resonated deeply with then-25-year-old Hart. “I don’t even know if he’ll remember this conversation, but Melo was like, ‘You’d be a perfect fit in New York.’ And this was three years ago. I was like, Yeah, that would be a bucket list play for me. And then, obviously, it all came full circle. Now I get to put on a Knicks jersey, go out there, and represent this city.”

His excitement is palpable. His love of the city is palpable. Getting to play on the East Coast, so close to his hometown, in the city known for its hedonistic restaurant and bar scene (both of which are personally important to Hart and his wife), with several of his former Villanova teammates — including Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo — is a dream come true. “Miami is cool, but New York is home,” he declares immediately when I press him as to which of these two exciting locales fit him best. “I’m an East Coast kid, but really, I’m a Northeast kid, and I’ve always said that. I have this conversation with people all the time — they say things like, ‘Miami is so fun, this and that.’ I’m like, Yes, you’re right. It’s great now, but once I call it quits, once I retire, I’m gone. Compared to New York, Miami is just a no. It doesn’t match the vibe of New York, the hustle and bustle, where everyone is moving and has something to do.” 

And then he shares a major truth bomb, which may sound like a negative, but is all gravy for him, personally. “New Yorkers are a lot like me,” he says, baring a wolfish smile. “They drop the polite. They tell you what is what; they’re frank, and I love that. I don’t beat around the bush, and [like having that reciprocated]: I want you to tell me what’s what. So, New York for sure feels more like home, and hopefully, that can be home for a long, long time.”

JOSH HARTPhoto Credit: Nick Garcia

It’s 9 p.m. in the Philippines. Which means it’s well past the 5 o’clock somewhere rule. And it’s a good thing, too, because Josh Hart really needs a glass of wine.

Scratch that; he needs a bottle. This is nothing new, per se, given that Hart is a member of the NBA’s “Secret Wine Society,” but he’s really in need these days. He explains that he’s been on the road since August, when he played in Las Vegas’ Summer League, up through now, just after Labor Day. Immediately after the World Cup (where the USA will finish 4th), he’ll head to the Dominican Republic for a long-booked holiday with his wife, twin boys, and parents. Who are, and currently have been, with him in Asia. And while Hart cherishes that much family time (and has built-in babysitters who are currently nowhere to be found as they’re enjoying their first trip out of the country in 30 years), it’s a double-edged sword. I defy anyone who has spent non-stop, round-the-clock family time to say otherwise.

“We’re going straight from here to the DR and straight from the DR to New York. It’s kind of a lot, but I knew that going into this,” he admits. “But for me, playing in the World Cup was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I just really had to grab. Being able to represent Team USA and have my name on the back of a USA jersey is a dream. It was cool being able to do that, and something I truly didn’t see coming. I thought I was just going to be in Miami for the summer, hanging out, chilling, working out. This was a nice surprise, making the team, a nice little change of pace. But it’s also been challenging with [newborns and all the travel] for sure.”

That being said, Hart has some relief and release in the form of his teammates, including Mikal Bridges, Brandon Ingram, Tyrese Haliburton, and current Knicks teammate Jalen Brunson, as well as his vice — wine — to keep him company. 
Ironically, a situation much like the one he’s currently in, away from home, surrounded by fellow NBA players, made him fall in love with viniculture in the first place. We refer to this situation as the ‘NBA Bubble.’

Although many remember that time with frustration, Hart only has fond memories of The Bubble, given that it introduced him to one of the greatest loves of his life. Plus, especially now that he’s a father, a husband, a man with serious responsibilities, it would give him a degree of freedom to be able to do nothing but play ball and drink.

“It would be nice to be back there,” he says wistfully. “I could bring my A-game with wines, I could golf, I could leave my wife and kids and all my other responsibilities at home and do literally nothing but play basketball and eat. You give me the opportunity now, and I’m doing it. Give me The Bubble again — maybe not for three months, but for a month-and-a-half — and I’m in.”

He explains his reasoning now, sharing that he learned (and drank a lot while receiving said education) from guys like Melo and CJ McCollum, both of whom now have their own labels. “I was still in my rookie contract at that point, but CJ and Melo had the funds to drink really expensive, nice [varietals]. I was like, Yeah, I’m not going to sit here and spend thousands of dollars on these Bordeaux’s, but I will sit here and drink some of y’alls, and I’ll do it for free and have an amazing time.
Perhaps Carmelo remembers that young Hart — the then-rookie turned league vet — didn’t contribute to their nights of revelry? It certainly seems like it now. “Melo actually [arrived in the Philippines] today for the World Cup, and the first thing he said to me was, ‘What Bordeaux’s do we got?’ And I was like, I’ve got a couple; I bought some here. Just let me know when.

The ‘some’ he bought in Asia — for his whole week-long duration — is a bone of contention between Hart and his wife. “As soon as I got to the Philippines, I was immediately like, I’ve got to find a wine shop. I found this really cool wine membership club, and I was able to get some wine. My wife yelled at me, though, because it was delivered two days ago; we got it on the 5th and leave on the 11th, and I bought like six or seven bottles. I’m just like, That means we’ve got to drink it before we go. But it’s nothing new. Every week, I have shipments of wine coming to the house, and every week, I’m getting yelled at. One, because I keep buying wine. Two, because we don’t have a place to put it. So yeah, I guess we need to build a cellar.”

If you think buying a slew of bottles while playing in the World Cup is next level, well, you’d probably be right. Hart will take it. He’s lived with himself his entire life, after all. He knows how he can get.

“My wife hates it because I go all-in with my vices. I love my wine; I’m all in on it,” he declares. “I went from shoes to watches to wine. And I kind of wish I hadn’t, because those are two very expensive vices. At least watches make good investments; they make money over time. Wine is a good investment until you drink it, because then you can’t get it back.”

That’s just the way he rolls though. Hart poo-poos the idea of a Coravin — an intricate wine-saving system that allows wine to be saved for weeks, months, or even years — because it “takes the fun out of drinking” if you can’t taste how a bottle develops after it’s been opened (although he does share that he’s waiting to open two of his most expensive purchases, a 1962 Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc that he thoughtfully purchased for his host father in honor of his birth year, and a 1995 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache).

In addition to a recent partnership with The Prisoner Wine Company, he also launched a scholarship as part of a wine program with Wine Access this past year to help individuals in the black and brown communities get access to wine, offering 100 scholarships to aspiring wine experts in the BIPOC community, with the goal of discovering tomorrow’s wine industry stars. He’s also indulged in several blending sessions, creating custom blends, with The Napa Valley Reserve, Bill and Will Harlan’s exclusive Napa Valley wine club.

I confidently say that Hart will have his own wine label one day (in fact, he’s already released an exclusive venture, which isn’t for sale), but he’s not so sure. While he’s always fantasized about having a plot of land, the dream hasn’t gone beyond that… yet. “Maybe down the line in 10 or 15 years — it’s a big picture goal,” he says, joking (I think), “Maybe you’ll see me with a straw hat on the back of a plow with a horse, plowing my own vineyard, the sun behind me, with a little straw hanging out of my mouth. Maybe that will be my retirement photo. I’ll be dirty and muddy but wearing a nice watch. That’s going to be a vibe. That’s the vibe, right there.”

I can’t help but laugh. Hart is so wonderfully extra, and takes such ownership of being so, that it’s impossible not to like him. He even proudly fesses up to the contents of those seemingly designer suitcases you see him toting from game to game. I’ll give you a hint: they aren’t filled with clothing.

I tease him about his over-the-top tendencies, and he cops to them readily. “I told you I’m all in on this wine life, and I’m not mad about it!” he says with a laugh. Also, they come in handy. One, a little red six-bottle from Wine Enthusiast, is his go-to. The other, a 12-bottle, leather-interior RIMOWA, was a gift from former teammate LeBron James. And who’s going to turn that down? Plus, he actually uses them. Like, all the time, to cart around bottles of his go-tos from wineries such as Heitz, Château Pontet-Canet, Château Pape Clément, and Vega Sicilia.

“If I’m playing somebody I know, I might give them a bottle because I know they drink wine. They’ll be like, ‘Yo, J Hart, you got a bottle for me?’ So that’s why I’ll have bottles of wine walking into games,” he explains.

And sometimes — most of the time, in fact — they’re for him, rain or shine, win or loss. “Sometimes, if I’m with a trainer, I’m sitting there, icing my knee, having a glass of wine. Most of the time, hopefully, it’s after a win. But you know, sometimes you need that as well after a good a** whooping. I’m like, I need a glass immediately. We just got our a**es whooped; I’m popping this open right now. There have been times when I might bring a bottle or two [to a game]; I’ll chill them in advance and have them when I’m done. And then I’m sitting around with my teammates, having conversations either about the wine or how well or badly we played, just spewing out random, random conversations. Each one has its own little story to it.”

This is why Hart’s wife is likely mad. He isn’t a saver — he’s a sharer. He doesn’t believe in saving up for a rainy day or holding onto something expensive (unless it’s one of his two rarest bottles, one of which he will be drinking imminently) just because he can. Every day is a cause for celebration, and he views his collection as such. Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays? National Donut Day even: all causes for celebration. But a regular day in his life is, too.

“For me, it’s like, just drink it, have fun with it. You don’t have to sit there and waste time for no reason. Your special occasion might be winning an NBA Final, and mine might be waking up tomorrow. You know what I mean? So, to each his own.”

If you don’t think he practices what he preaches, just know that it was an extravagant Rosso del Bepi Giuseppe Quintarelli that he imbibed when signing with the Knicks, and there will no doubt be many expensive bottles uncorked during a boat day in the Dominican Republic (wine suitcase in tow, obviously) when he finally gets around to celebrating that monster contract extension with his family.

“Spend your life how you want, with who you want,” he advises. “Celebrate the little moments as well as the big ones. Enjoy your life!”

Just as he is no doubt about to do at this very moment in time, likely with a very big glass or two of something from Bordeaux. And why not? Life is beautiful.

“It’s been a non-stop celebration since I got to New York; everything’s been good,” he confides. “I’m in a coastal home in a dope city; playing with a dope franchise; we’re good in the playoffs; I just had kids; I get to see family all the time. So yeah, there are bottles of wine being popped constantly, and I’m the type of guy that, on a random Tuesday, will just say F**k it… It is a special occasion. It’s a Tuesday, baby! And then just pop it and drink it. And that’s the beauty of it, because every time you open something, there’s a story behind it, a moment you’ll always remember.”

Just like I will this one. So now, only one question remains: What are we drinking? 

JOSH HARTPhoto Credit: Nick Garcia