After Porzingis’s first few games with the Knicks, a campaign to create a nickname for him caught on in New York. “I’m loving when people stop and think about nicknames,” Puce said. “What kind of nicknames you are looking for? His surname is so unique.” This may be another reason he’s gone without a nickname in Latvia: he didn’t need one. “Nobody else in Latvia has the same last name. There’s just five of us,” Martins Porzingis, thirty, said, referring to his two brothers, Kristaps and Janis, who is thirty-three, and their parents. “When you say ‘Porzingis,’ it’s not about somebody else.” When Martins flew back to Latvia with his parents after the N.B.A. draft, the border-control official checked their passports and then paused. “Congratulations on the draft,” he said.
He has amazed New York—but he has overwhelmed Latvia, a country with a population of fewer than two million. “Not only in the sports newspapers but in the daily papers he has been on the front page,” Kaspars Cipruss, a former Latvian national player who is currently a basketball analyst for the Internet TV channel LMT Straume, said. “In Latvia, achievement like this has never happened before.”
“He’s the most popular person in Latvia at the moment,” Arturs Kalnitis, one of the most influential basketball agents in the country, told me. “Everyone’s talking about this—housewives, people who have never been related to basketball.”
At restaurants and bars all across the country, over a plate of beetroot salad, a bottle of Uzavas beer, or a glass of black balsam liqueur, conversation inevitably turns to Porzingis. Politicians strategize about how best to capitalize on the player’s popularity, the journalist Armands Puce, who hosts the Latvian sports show “Overtime” on the country’s TV6 channel, told me. Subscriptions in Latvia to N.B.A. League Pass, which allows viewers to stream any N.B.A. game at any time, has tripled this year over last. When asked which Latvian personality had previously received the kind of attention Porzingis is currently getting, Kalnitis said, “I don’t think there were any.”
Now, Porzingis is negotiating a sponsorship deal with Citadele Bank, in Latvia. He has already signed three deals in the States: with BodyArmor sports drink, Delta Air Lines (which will help with his family’s frequent trips across the Atlantic), and the Shifman Mattress company, which promised to make him a bed large enough to sleep on. And despite the recent slump, few doubt the promise of what he has shown on the court so far. The popular Latvian newspapers Diena and Neatkariga continue to cover him. The sports-media publications Sporta Avize and sportacentrs.lv continue to feature him. Knicks fans continue to obsess over him. “It’s like Finland,” Puce said. “Finland created Nokia cell phones. Right now we feel like we have our Nokia. It’s Kristaps Porzingis.”