Immanuel Quickley can’t look away. It’s January 21, 2021, and the New York Knicks are set to face off against the Golden State Warriors. The then-rookie is standing on the floor of the Chase Center, watching Stephen Curry swish jumpers on the other end of the court. Curry makes another one. And then another one. Quickley stands there, watching in awe as the greatest shooter of all time does what he does best. 

Quickley is actually so dialed in that he forgets to do his own warm-up entirely. “I was just watching him shoot the whole time, and he was making every single shot,” the Knicks guard tells us.

It’s been three years since, but this season, it’s Quickley who has had plenty of eyes on him. The Havre de Grace, MD, native emerged as a finalist for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award (finishing second in voting) while averaging career highs in field-goal percentage and points per game as the Knicks headed into the playoffs. As a starter, Quickley stepped up big in the final weeks of the regular season while Jalen Brunson was out with an injury: he had a career-high 38 points against the Celtics on March 5 and a 40-ball against the Rockets at the end of the month.

All that momentum continued when Quickley dropped 39 points and hit 7 threes against the Pacers on April 5. Two days later, his phone suddenly started blowing up with notifications of people tagging him on Instagram—Damian Lillard had just endorsed him for 6MOY. 

“Just knowing that [an] NBA superstar is vouching for you is something that’s pretty cool,” Quickly says. He first got connected to Dame during his rookie year through Knicks assistant coach Johnnie Bryant and says the NBA All-Star has given him advice on “working hard and believing in the work.” 

While the award ultimately went to the Celtics’ Malcolm Brogdon, the moment is a testament to Quickley’s commitment. 

Then there are the words of wisdom he received from Stephen Curry. During what Quickley calls a “tough time where I couldn’t make any shots,” he decided to reach out to Curry and pick his brain. He asked the four-time NBA champ for his opinion on shooting when a player thinks they’re in a slump or not playing well. 

He got a reply, and the recording is almost three minutes long. In it, Quickley can hear the sound of a car’s windshield wipers and blinker lights in the background as Curry recorded his message: 

“Honestly, shooting is all confidence. Even if you miss some shots, your confidence shouldn’t change because you could miss 50 shots in a row, but if you know you’re still a shooter, you’re still a shooter. That doesn’t change.” 

Quickley still has the recording saved on his phone. He says he listens to it all the time.

“He’s the greatest shooter ever, why would I not listen to it as many times as I can?”

In times when shots haven’t been falling like he’d want them to, Quickley has still managed to channel Curry’s advice. After going scoreless in Game 4 in the first round of the playoffs this spring, he dropped 19 points in a series-clinching Game 5 win against the Cavs. 

“It’s part of the game, as far as, you know, shots not falling,” Quickley says. “But that’s never a reason to not play hard or not play defense or keep encouraging your teammates and things like that. So that’s something I’ve learned at a young age, and it’s something I’ve kept with me through the NBA.”

Another part of his approach is positive affirmations. Quickley says he’ll say things to himself while on the court, like, The next shot is going in. “I talk to myself like I’m my best friend,” he says.

But more than anything, it’s his faith that plays the most important role in his life. He still does 15 minute Bible studies with his mom whenever he needs and has pastors that he’s known throughout his life who give him words of encouragement throughout the season. He also has a scripture from Romans 8:28 as the screensaver on his phone: We know that all things work together for the good of those that love him and are called according to His purpose. 

In discussing the things he’s learned about himself over the last year, Quickly sounds wiser than his years: “I think the biggest thing for me is I’m just much more aware, spiritually, of when I’m not doing enough. Sometimes, we can get caught up throughout our day or throughout working out. We can get busy.”

Before games, Quickley will sometimes listen to a church service. “I think, for me, definitely just seeing the bigger picture [has] helped me to lock in and [to] always remember the reason that I’m playing basketball and who’s giving me the gift that I’m able to share with others.” 

He’s hip to legendary gospel singer Kirk Franklin and is an avid listener, comparing his game to Franklin’s music because of it’s upbeat style (“Just good vibes,” he says). He’s had moments this year—like his 38-point performance against the Celtics in double overtime—where he’s found his rhythm on offense and was simply just having fun with it all. That’s really when he’s playing at his best, and he is not the type to hesitate showing it. 

“Honestly, when I’m having those big games, it kind of feels like I’m at the park playing with my friends. There was a game against Boston, I made that layup and I was skipping down the floor. Some people think that I’m just, you know, being funny, but I was honestly just having so much fun that game that I just started skipping down the court.

“Before the game even started, I knew I was gonna have fun whether I played good or not,” he adds. “And that kind of just propelled me to have that game because I had that mindset of, you know, just having fun on a nationally televised game. I knew I was gonna have a fun night.” 

Since Day 1 of training camp, and even going back to the summer, Quickley says his mindset has always been to “just have a great year.” Despite what happens next or how far the Knicks go in this year’s playoffs, it’s a fact that the Knicks have become one of the most fun teams to watch this season—and Quickley is a major reason why. 

“Really, I feel like it’s the joy that I play with [is] where it shows the most—unselfishness, togetherness, unity,” he says” “All of those things kind of embody what it means to me to be playing and the gift that God has given me.”

Portraits by Marcus Stevens.

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