Chuck D’s bond with the New York Knicks
The Public Enemy rapper is a beloved fan and now a friend of the organization
The blaring of hip-hop classic “Fight the Power” in the visiting locker room had deeper meaning for the New York Knicks than just a song celebrating their road victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. It was a tribute to rap legend Chuck D of Public Enemy, who was mingling with his beloved team.
Knicks coach David Fizdale was singing Chuck D’s praises and telling his young squad to Google the rapper, who was someone Fizdale looked up to.
“And then they started playing ‘Fight the Power’ on the box,” Chuck D said. “It was kind of embarrassing, but it was all love.”
Nearby stood a smiling Steve Mills, the team’s president, who made the cool connection between his Knicks and his childhood friend from Long Island, New York.
Long before any of the current Knicks players were born, Mills and Chuck D became friends in the early 1970s in Roosevelt, Long Island. Roosevelt is a hamlet and census-designated place in the town of Hempstead in Nassau County, New York, that currently has a population of about 16,000.
“We’ve known each other since we were young kids, 7, 8 years old,” Mills said. “We’ve known each other from hanging out at the park since we were kids. A guy from our neighborhood wrote [a book] about Roosevelt called One Square Mile, because it is 1 square mile.”
Roosevelt has produced the likes of Mills, Carlton Douglas “Chuck D” Ridenhour, legendary comedian/actor Eddie Murphy, basketball legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving, radio legend Howard Stern, singers Aaron and Damion Hall of Guy, Public Enemy hype man Flavor Flav, football star John Mackey, comedian/actor Charlie Murphy, actor/comedian Steve White, famed drummer Roy Haynes, actress Sandra Dee and others.
Mills and Chuck D are proud to be among the long list of Roosevelt celebrities.
“It is kind of interesting that there is this little town where all these people came out of,” Mills said.
Said Chuck D: “Out of that square mile, unbelievable brilliance happened.”
Mills recalls the birth of hip-hop in New York City, being in awe of Afrika Bambaataa, LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash and Public Enemy, getting tapes from the deejays from the different boroughs and parties in local parks. Mills also is proud of the success of his friends Chuck D, Flavor Flav and Public Enemy, as the legendary rap group took a political, racial and social stance with their music.
“They were just always very outspoken guys, and progressive and strong in how they felt about issues, even when we were in high school,” Mills said. “As they progressed in their entertainment careers, it didn’t surprise me that they stood up for things and stood for something. Chuck was always such a powerful and articulate guy. I’m just proud of all those guys. …
“When you grow up with people, you can never tell that their life is going to turn out in such a fantastic way. When you see guys from your town that grew up the way we grew up live to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it’s crazy. But it’s a testament to their talent, creativity and the way they worked.”
Chuck D, who says he saw Dr. J play streetball numerous times in Long Island and professionally for the American Basketball Association’s New York Nets, recalls seeing Mills play in the park and thought it was inspiring to see a fellow African-American play at famed Princeton University.
“Stevie was like a little bit smaller Damian Lillard,” Chuck D said. “Stevie went to Catholic high school, which had another thing going on, so it was almost a no-brainer for him to go to an Ivy League school. You’re going for a little more than basketball. You’re getting that Princeton degree.
“We know with Steve going to Princeton, you’re not going to be one of those dudes that is not going to get what you’re supposed to get out of those types of schools. You’re going to go back to the ’hood and be a banker or some s—. … We know Steve would end up being something bigger than basketball.”
Chuck D has been an avid fan of the Knicks since 1967 and regularly listened to games on the radio back then. His favorite Knicks player as a kid was point guard Howard Komives. He thought forward Dave DeBusschere’s name was “Dave the Butcher” and center Willis Reed’s name was “Rebound Reed,” as described on the radio. He recalls the Knicks winning championships in 1970 and 1973.
“My whole youth was we are going to be winning. Now the deal is I’m 58 going on 59 and my team hasn’t won since I was 13, so that tells you how hardcore a fan I am,” Chuck D said.
Decades after meeting, Mills and Chuck D still keep in touch by texting each other regularly. Chuck D gave Mills a heads-up that he planned to attend the Knicks game on Jan. 4 against the Lakers with an injured LeBron James sidelined. He was given two seats from Cypress Hill rapper and his former Prophets of Rage bandmate B-Real, who is a Lakers season-ticket holder. The Knicks defeated the Lakers 119-112 with the aid of a game-high 22 points from Tim Hardaway Jr.
“The Knicks came to L.A. and took one,” Chuck D said. “I looked over from my seat and LeBron was totally not happy the way he was looking.”
Afterward, Mills had team security escort Chuck D to the Knicks locker room to see Mills and meet Fizdale, general manager Scott Perry and the players. Chuck D, who actually dreamed about becoming a sportscaster before getting the rap bug, was also hoping to get a picture with Knicks play-by-play announcer Mike Breen and star guard-turned-color-analyst Walt “Clyde” Frazier.
“It was a little surreal because I don’t like to cross my fan boundaries,” said Chuck D, who does not attend many Knicks games but watches them all.
No one from the Knicks organization was more excited to meet Chuck D than Fizdale.
“I’m a Public Enemy fan. That was my soundtrack,” Fizdale said. “So when [Mills] brought him in, I went crazy. Then I introduced him to the team and he talked about how much he appreciated the Knicks and that he was a Knicks fan.”
All but two of the Knicks players were born in the 1990s and for the most part didn’t know who Chuck D was initially. But most had heard of Public Enemy and immediately showed respect to the hip-hop legend once they got educated by Fizdale.
“Chuck D was a cool dude,” Knicks guard Emmanuel Mudiay said. “He showed a lot of love and a lot of support, so I got to start showing the same for him too. I didn’t know who he was at first, but Courtney Lee was telling me. It was crazy that he showed us so much support.”
Said Hardaway Jr.: “It was special. You can’t take that for granted when someone that high of caliber comes by. You have to take it in.”
Chuck D also offered his beloved Knicks players some words of wisdom on their road back to respect. The Knicks could certainly use the cheering up, as they own a losing record with their star Kristaps Porzingis expected to be sidelined this season.
“I told the guys I was a longtime fan and this season was probably one of the most exciting seasons regardless to whether they won or lost,” Chuck D said. “We Knicks fans just want to see the effort and enthusiasm. We know the realities of what it is and what it ain’t. Some of the things that bothered Knicks fans in the past was a lack of effort and trying to mail it in and doing it by numbers. But I like seeing those kids.
“Hopefully, we can become a winning franchise. The fans are already ready and have been waiting.”