Niagara Gazette

June 25, 2009

SCHMITT: Destiny plays trick on Flynn

By Tim Schmitt

NEW YORK — You forget. Every time you leave this place and come back it knocks you over as hard as it did the first time. You forget how big, how bold, how vivid the Big Apple is. Hang around Manhattan long enough and you’ll see everything. The Naked Cowboy. A movie star or two. Heck, I even stopped a guy in a brand-spanking new Terrell Owens Buffalo Bills jersey walking down Broadway two hours before Thursday’s NBA Draft.

In Western New York, we’ll do just about anything to find an attachment to our superstars, no matter how aloof (see Ryan Miller), introverted (see Trent Edwards) or downright dangerous (fill in the Bill of the month here). Stick around long enough, and we’ll find you.

But New York is a different joint. A place where you need to jump up and grab the spotlight with two fists. A place where fame is fleeting and talent without personality goes largely unnoticed.

Jonny Flynn has talent. Always has. Tim Winn talked about it years ago, saying he’d be the best of the Niagara Falls bunch. He was right, as Thursday’s events can attest.

But with Flynn’s skill comes a knack for converting fans in a hurry. A well-timed smile. A coy remark. A hint of modesty which is clearly masking a well-formed ego. Flynn knows he’s good, but he doesn’t need to tell you. Guys like me will do it for him. Over and over and over.

So in New York — the place where he had his national coming-out party in the form of a six-overtime thriller none of us will soon forget — Flynn looked as at ease as if he was greeting buddies at the 17th Street Boys and Girls Club.

Flynn was made for this. Made for the crowds. Made for the pressure. Made for New York.

That’s what makes his selection by the floundering Minnesota Timberwolves the only low point in a night that was essentially all about Flynn. His presence was dominating on Thursday, much like it was when he ruled the Wolvearena. He sat in a table adjacent to the crowd, and before the ESPN lights kicked in a security guard had to usher away autograph seekers who snuck past a checkpoint.

Jonny owned the Apple.

While a group of friends and family including former Niagara Falls teammate and current Niagara University senior Rob Garrison paced the aisles, Flynn playfully slapped high fives with his nephew.

Calm. Cool. Playful. Like he was running three-on-two drills.

Destiny seemed a Knicks’ pick away at No. 8. Flynn often references Jeff Van Gundy’s leg-hold on Miami’s Alonzo Mourning, and has long admitted New York has always been his favorite team. Every time his wide smile hit the theater’s big screens groups of fans in Knick jerseys started chanting “We want Jonny!”

They didn’t get him. Instead, the Timberwolves scooped him up just a single pick after taking Ricky Rubio, the Spanish sensation.

But here’s where Flynn’s likability comes into play — where Rubio hardly seemed happy with Minnesota’s two picks, Flynn was beaming.

Rubio’s remark to Flynn’s selection?

“That’s a big surprise for me they took another point guard,” Rubio said, mentioning that he’ll have to talk with his agent before deciding whether to buy out his Spanish League contract. “I don’t know exactly what they want.”

Meanwhile, Flynn calmly tried to diffuse any controversy.

“You see the NBA going to a format with two point guards,” Flynn said. “That’s what the game is shifting to. It’s good to have two facilitators that can make plays on the court.

“I think we can boost each other’s level of play and I can’t wait to go play with him.”

Hopefully, this whole thing works out.

Chances are, if anyone gets dealt, it’ll be Rubio. Since he holds more cards than Flynn — he could return to Spain — the T-Wolves are more likely to cave into any trade demands he issues. And since the Knicks need a point guard, it’s possible Rubio ends up back here, back in the Garden that made Flynn famous and chanted for him on Thursday.

But in the end, maybe Flynn gets the last laugh. Maybe he becomes the national media darling.

Maybe he leads an upstart Minnesota team to the playoffs.

If the spotlight is anywhere in his vicinity, we’ve learned one thing — Jonny knows how to handle it.

Contact sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.