The NBA and fans all over the world were in shock when it was revealed that New York Knicks player Cleanthony Early had been robbed and shot after leaving a club in December of last year.
Early hasn't played for the Knicks since December 23, with the incident occurring on the 30th. Since then he has been rehabbing the knee and getting back to fitness ahead of a potential return to the hardwood at Madison Square Garden.
All that hard work Early has been putting in paid off last night, as he was activated by the Knicks from D-League duty in Westchester and finally stepped foot on an NBA court again for the first time since the shooting.
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Early was activated prior to the Knicks' game against the Sacramento Kings due to New York's injury issues, with Lance Thomas and Carmelo Anthony both being unable to play. The 24-year-old played the final 19 seconds of the first half of the Knicks' 88-80 loss to Sacramento.
"It felt real good, especially after the incident," Early said of his return. "Just trying to get back out there and do what I do."
In the early hours of December 30, several masked robbers boxed in a taxi Early was travelling in with their vehicles forcing the car to a stop. They then robbed him and shot him in the right knee.
The bullet went clean through Early and did not cause any major long-term damage to the knee. He didn't need surgery and was extremely lucky. It's near miraculous that he is playing again so soon after what could have been a career-ending incident.
"When you look back on it, the biggest part of it is just how fortunate he was that something more disastrous didn't happen, especially when you look at what could have happened with his knee," Knicks interim coach Kurt Rambis said prior to the game.
"It could have caused much more significant damage than it did, so he's very fortunate, and he knows that."
Early had a short stint with the Knicks' D-League affiliate last week and said that he is still working on his conditioning in a bid to get on the court for more than 19 seconds. The former Wichita State player thanked Knicks coaches and teammates for supporting him during his rehab.
"I'm very fortunate," he said. "You just go through certain experiences, certain adversities, certain trials. Just keep your head up, get smarter, work harder and just learn from the past."
The 24-year-old is a free agent this offseason and it will be interesting to see what happens with his situation. Hopefully, he can get back out and make up for lost time - winning a new contract in the process.