A band of masked robbers boxed in New York Knicks player Cleanthony Early’s cab with their vehicles as he left a strip club Wednesday, demanding his “gold” before shooting him in the leg, law enforcement officials told The Associated Press.
Early left CityScapes in Queens with his girlfriend at about 4:30 a.m. in an Uber cab when his vehicle was surrounded by at least two other cars and as many as six men got out, the two officials said. Early handed over two gold chains before he was shot in the right kneecap, officials told the AP.
Law enforcement officials told WABC-TV in New York that the men even asked for the gold caps from Early’s teeth. After the shooting, the men drove off. The Uber driver and girlfriend were uninjured, and the driver was robbed only of his identification.
Early, 24, was hospitalized in stable condition early Wednesday. A spokesperson for Elmhurst Hospital said later Wednesday that Early was released and transferred to another facility.
The two law enforcement officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the victim’s name.
Two league sources with knowledge of the incident confirmed to ESPN that the bullet went through Early and was not lodged in his knee and that there was no major structural damage to his knee. Another source confirmed to ESPN that surgery would not be needed at this point but that they were closely monitoring for any infection or tissue damage.
“Under the circumstances, he is very, very lucky,” one source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.
Yahoo! Sports earlier reported an MRI revealed no structural damage and that surgery would not be needed at this time.
Early thanked his supporters via Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.
Knicks coach Derek Fisher said he spoke with Early on Wednesday morning.
“He’s doing OK,” Fisher said. “I don’t think we’ve got enough of a medical update to assume everything is OK, but relatively, he’s doing well. It doesn’t appear to be life-threatening at this point. But obviously, until you’re released from the hospital I think we also have to be cautious.”
Fisher later said: “The most important thing is that it appears at least that he’s going to still be with us and hopefully be back with our team soon. To what extent of the injury, etc, we won’t know that for now. But for sure, to know that he’s still here and doing relatively well, as well as you could be, I think we’ll take that.”
Fisher, team security and management addressed the team about the incident on Wednesday before morning workouts “to remind them of how serious this is.”
“There are certain things that come with being visible in terms of being a public figure,” Fisher said, adding that the message to players was “to continue to try to be as vigilant and as careful as you can knowing that you can’t always avoid other people’s choices.”
Police were searching for suspects and trying to determine whether it was a carefully planned attack or a spur-of-the-moment one.
Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis wished Early well.
A former Knicks teammate, J.R. Smith, made a point of saying he thought Early wasn’t doing anything wrong.
The theft comes about 10 days after Knicks forward Derrick Williams was robbed of $617,000 in jewelry from his home by two women whom he had taken home from a Manhattan club. Police are still looking for the suspects.
Williams said Tuesday night that there were some falsehoods being circulated about the incident. The case raised questions about whether NBA players should have a curfew similar to those of other professional sports. In April,Indiana Pacers forward Chris Copeland, his girlfriend and another woman were stabbed following a late-night argument on the street near a Manhattan nightclub.
Fisher said the team might consider instituting a curfew at a later date.
“I think it’s very important to respect Cleanthony and his mom and his family before debating policy and what should and shouldn’t be,” he said.
Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony said he was “shocked” to hear the news, saying Early is “a very humble guy who stays to himself.”
Anthony, who has played in New York for nearly five years, believes he and his teammates need to be cautious when out in public.
“You have to be careful,” he said. “You have to be aware of kind of what you’re doing and your surroundings and where you’re at. … Guys are going to go out. Guys are going to have a good time. I think we just have to be a little bit more aware and a little bit more conscious of where we’re at, who we’re around, our surroundings, who’s in our circles and things like that.”
Early, a native of the Bronx, was selected by New York in the second round of the 2014 draft following his senior season at Wichita State. A 6-foot-8 forward, he has seen action in 10 of the Knicks’ 33 games this season and is averaging 0.7 points per game. He played for less than a minute in the Knicks’ 108-96 win over Detroit on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Early missed two months of the 2014-15 season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, the same one injured in Wednesday’s shooting.
In a 2014 story in the New York Daily News that detailed Early’s amateur career, he said he was “born on the bottom.”
“I wasn’t bad, just mischievous, lacked guidance,” he said. “I had to overcome those adversities, understand the world is a certain type of way. I’m not gonna cry about it or dwell. I have an opportunity to improve by rational decisions.”