Knicks forward Cleanthony Early was shot in the leg during a robbery outside a Queens strip club early Wednesday by masked men who demanded his "gold," law enforcement officials say.
Early, 24, and his girlfriend were leaving the CityScapes Gentlemen's Club on 58th Street in Maspeth in an Uber car around 4:30 a.m. when the vehicle was surrounded by at least two other cars and as many as six men got out, authorities said.
The officials say the men demanded Early's "gold" and took two gold chains before shooting him in the right kneecap and driving off. The Uber driver and the girlfriend were not hurt.
Early and the Uber driver sought help at a nearby house. A neighbor told NBC 4 New York he called 911 because he saw a tall man and another man trying to get into the house and thought it was a break-in; it was Early and the Uber driver, and the man who lived at the home they were trying to access let them in and got them help, the neighbor said.
Early, who has played in 10 games this year, is doing OK and his injuries weren't life-threatening, Coach Derek Fisher said.
Police were searching for suspects and trying to determine if it was a carefully planned attack or a spur-of-the-moment hit.
"We talked to our guys about the situation, just reminded them how serious this is and that there are certain things that come with being visible in terms of being a public figure," Fisher said.
He told them: "Continue to try to be as vigilant and as careful as you can knowing that you can't always avoid other people's choices."
Kristaps Porzingis and Jose Calderon tweeted their support for their fellow Knick.
— Kristaps Porzingis (@kporzee) December 30, 2015
The theft comes about 10 days after Knicks forward Derrick Williams was robbed of $617,000 in jewelry from his home. He had taken home two women from a Manhattan club. Police are still looking for suspects.
Williams has declined to comment on the theft, but the case raised questions about whether NBA players should have a curfew like 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 was asked about the curfew policy Wednesday but said he'd "maybe" revisit it at another time.
"It obviously raises our concern and our level of awareness that we ought to have," he said.
Teammate Carmelo Anthony said he didn't think Early had purposefully put himself in a dangerous situation, and he described Early as "humble" and "a guy who stays to himself." He said he wouldn't go so far as to say the Knicks were being targeted.
"I think we just have to be a little bit more aware and a little bit more conscious of kind of where we're at, who we're around, our surroundings, who's in our circle, things like that," he said.
The 6-foot-8 Early was selected by New York in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft following his senior season at Wichita State. The Bronx native 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 during the Knicks' 108-96 win over Detroit on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
In a 2014 Daily News story on Early during his amateur days that brought him to a prep school, community college and Wichita, where he won 30 or more games each year, he said he was "born on the bottom."
"I wasn't bad, just mischievous, lacked guidance. I had to overcome those adversities, understand the world is a certain type of way," he said. "I'm not gonna cry about it or dwell. I have an opportunity to improve by rational decisions."
Nick Wiggins, one of Early's teammates at Wichita State, asked his followers to pray for the Knicks player.
"Everybody please have my brother @Clearly_BallLyf in your prayers today. I'm lost for words. Sick, sick world we live in," Wiggins tweeted.