In the final game of the 2012-13 NBA regular season Chris Copeland had one of the most memorable performances of his rookie campaign with the New York Knicks.
Yet he left the court that night in deep pain after suffering a shoulder injury late in the third quarter of the Knicks’ victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
But for Copeland, who played at the University of Colorado from 2002-06, his shoulder is the last thing on his mind as he completes the first season of what he calls “a life-long journey” to play in the NBA.
After scoring a career-high 33 points against Atlanta, Copeland told the MSG Network that Knicks coach Mike Woodson instructed him to “be aggressive,” and when describing what happened to his shoulder he said something “popped out.”
Nonetheless, three days later, Copeland would start in his first-ever NBA playoff game against the Boston Celtics in “The World’s Most Famous Arena” – Madison Square Garden. His stat-line was not nearly as impressive (0-for-3 from the field) as the one he compiled in the season finale, but Copeland will tell you it was even more memorable.
In an interview with CUBuffs.com, he described his emotions as “very excited,” and added, “I really wanted to make an impression, although I honestly didn’t play excellent, but we won the game and that’s all that matters.”
He has left a good impression among the Knicks’ organization and fans. Playing in 56 games this season, Copeland averaged 8.7 points in 15.4 minutes a game. However, in the final month of the season his scoring average almost doubled, going to 15.0.
There are few current players with a more intriguing story than Copeland, a 29-year-old rookie who grew up in Newark, N.J., played college basketball in Boulder, and then spent six years traveling from the NBA’s Developmental League across Europe. He finally found a fit on an NBA roster in a city he calls home.
“I still have a lot of family across the water (in New Jersey),” said Copeland. “It’s basically a big-time homecoming for me, and it’s great to be back.”
Playing in front of 20,000 of the world’s most passionate sports fans on a nightly basis is quite a contrast from his playing days in Europe and college. Yet the stage isn’t too big for Copeland; in fact he feels most comfortable playing on basketball’s biggest platform.
“I think it’s every basketball player’s dream to play here. It’s the Garden, it’s the Mecca of basketball. It is such a blessing to be here,” Copeland said. “We get nothing but good vibes when we come into the building. I think a lot of (the fans) appreciate my story and I think they can relate to the nature of me being basically just a blue-collar player.”
New York fans have taken a liking to Copeland and rest of the Knicks squad for good reason. Boasting a 54-28 record, including 31-10 in the Garden, the team had its winningest season in over 15 years (since 1996-97).
The Knicks finished second in the Eastern Conference to the Miami Heat, which won more games (66) than any other team in the NBA.
However, after a four-game losing streak in the middle of March, the Knicks were not looking like a very special team and needed a spark.
It was Copeland.
In the final game of a five-game road trip at Utah on March 18th, Copeland put forth an impressive outing by scoring 14 points for a team that was missing two of its most valued players in Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. Thanks in part to Copeland’s play, the Knicks would go on to win 90-83 to begin an eventual 13-game winning streak.
One reason Copeland realized his life-long dream of making it to the NBA is because of his confidence level. It’s not to say he isn’t humble, as you have to be when you are nearly 30-years-old and still receiving the same hazing as most 20-year-old rookies.
But his experiences over the years provide him with such sureness in his ability to perform at the highest level of competition.
“I’m confident (but) it doesn’t mean I think I’m the best player to ever play,” Copeland said. “But I believe in myself and so do my teammates and coaches, which only gives me more confidence at the end of the day.”
He says being on a roster featuring so many all-star names such as Anthony, Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, and others has been a blessing. All have served as mentors in different parts of his game helping him to adopt “new tricks and techniques” to further his development.
The winning streak Copeland assisted in starting served a pivotal role in helping the Knicks secure the Atlantic Division title for the first time since the 1993-94 season.
Copeland called contributing to such a special season “amazing. It is such a good feeling being out in the city and you can tell the fans have been waiting for a season like this.
“It is a great thing to be a part of; I’m so excited to be along for the ride and I just thank God and the Knicks organization for giving me this opportunity.”
The goal now is to not let the unbelievable ride come to a screeching stop, and Copeland doesn’t think it will anytime soon.
“We are just going to go out there and play one game at a time and see how it goes, and I think we are pretty confident in ourselves that we’ll get the job done,” he said.
The Knicks currently lead the best-of-seven series against the Celtics 2-0 after winning Game 2, 87-71 on Tuesday night in New York, with Games 3 and 4 scheduled in Boston on Friday and Sunday.