NEW YORK (AP) — New York Knicks player Cleanthony Early was shot in the leg by masked robbers who demanded his “gold” as he left a strip club Wednesday, law enforcement officials said.
Early was leaving CityScapes in Queens with his girlfriend at about 4:30 a.m. in an Uber cab when the 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, the officials said.
Early, 24, was hospitalized in stable condition. The Uber driver and girlfriend were uninjured, and the driver was robbed only of his identification.
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.
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Coach Derek Fisher said Early was doing OK and his injuries weren’t life-threatening.
“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,” he 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.”
Police were searching for suspects and trying to determine if it was a carefully planned attack or a spur-of-the-moment hit.
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. No arrests have been made.
The cases raise 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 a 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.
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 Daily News of New York 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.
Associated Press Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.