User menu

Main menu

Chris Copeland: The Year’s Best NBA Story

How New York Knicks forward Chris Copeland achieved his NBA dreams.


Photo: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images Sport | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013

Last night the New York Knicks fielded one the of the most "WTF?" starting fives in recent memory: At point guard, 35-year-old Argentine rookie Pablo Prigioni; at small forward, journeyman dunk savant James "Flight" White, who'd played a grand total of 10 NBA games before making New York's roster this year; at power forward, three-point assassin and imaginary belt fetishist Steve Novak; at shooting guard, Iman Shumpert, who less than a year ago blew out his knee; and at center, 6'8", 29-year-old rookie Chris Copeland, whose path to NBA success is a helluva lot crazier than Jeremy Lin's. The team lost, but that's no surprise considering they had only eight players suited up, and were without Carmelo Anthony (the league leader in points), Tyson Chandler (last year's Defensive Player of the Year), Raymond Felton, Kenyon Martin, Amar'é Stoudemire, J.R. Smith (this year's favorite for Sixth Man of the Year), and Marcus Camby. But the story was Copeland, who racked up 32 points. While playing center. As a 6'8" rookie. 

Despite their number two seed in the Eastern Conference and their recent 14-game winning streak — the Knicks have been decimated by injuries, especially on the front line. That's how a team ends up starting a 6'8" dude at center, where he gives up half-a-foot to opponents like the Pacers' All-Star Roy Hibbert, who Copeland outscored 20-4 two days ago. But how Copeland got to this point is the real story, which his former Spanish league teammate Flinder Boyd illustrates in a must-read story on sbnation.com

We'd urge everyone to read the story in full, but here's a basic timeline of Copeland’s crazy, inspiring path to the NBA playoffs:

- At age 13, Copeland's older brother and idol was killed in a hit-and-run accident in New Jersey.

- A solid, if unspectacular, high school career earned him a scholarship to the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he was hit by a stray bullet while at a campus football party, where his on-court achievements were middling, and where he struggled under the aptly named coach Ricardo Patton.

- After graduating in 2006, Copeland went undrafted, and then spent a mostly forgettable year with the D-League Fort Wayne Flyers, averaging less than 10 points per game. 

- In 2007, he signed with the second-division Spanish team Rosalia De Castro, playing for peanuts. He was cut after a few weeks.

- He then signed with another Spanish second-division team in Barcelona. He was cut again, for the second time in two months.

- After several weeks bumming around Barcelona, he signed with a tiny Dutch club in Nijmegan, where he finally began to blossom, averaging 18 points a game, albeit (as Boyd points out) against inferior competition.

- Intrigued, and looking for a forward who could shoot, coach Yves Defraigne signed Copeland to play for the German squad TBB Trier. And that's where things began to change. Defraigne essentially made Copeland his guinea pig, transforming the already hard-working forward into a basketball machine, overhauling his diet, fitness, game, and work ethic. 

- After a couple of seasons, the work paid off, and other teams came calling, with Copeland eventually signing with Aastar in Belgium. At this point, he'd been playing in Europe for five years, and was content with his life and career prospects. 

- But….his NBA dreams persisted, and last year he was invited to play on the Knicks' summer league team, looking to earn an invite to the team’s training camp.

- On the last day of training camp, Knicks coach Mike Woodson invited Copeland into his office, and told him he'd made the team.

In other words, in less than a year, Copeland has gone from the Belgian league to starting at center for the second best team in the NBA's Eastern Conference. Granted, with Chandler coming back for the playoffs, Copeland won't be leaned upon to post up guys who out-weigh him by more than 50 pounds, but he's proven to be an integral part of the Knicks playoff run. Read Boyd's story. It's worth your time. And you might just end up with a new favorite player.

Need more sports? Check out our 2013 Baseball Preview and news about Lindsay Vonn and Tiger Woods.