“He went to every game,’’ Toppin said. “You go to dinner with him, and he’ll tell you a thousand stories of him going there.’’
Toppin’s father, Obadiah Sr. once graced the Madison Square Garden with his dunks in a one-on-one basketball tournament called The Last Man Standing.
On Wednesday night, it will be Toppin’s turn to create his own highlights at The Garden that will definitely become his grandfather’s favorite Knicks story.
“It’s going to be amazing,’’ Toppin told reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday about his much-awaited Garden debut. “I’m from here. I’ve been watching the Knicks all my life. My family’s been a fan of the Knicks since I wasn’t even born. Me having an opportunity to step on the court with these guys and compete against another team is going to be amazing. I can’t wait for that time to come.’’
Draft Day twist
Toppin and the Knicks will continue their preseason schedule against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that has been linked to him in most mock drafts at No. 5. Toppin played college ball near Cleveland in Dayton, Ohio.
Luckily for him and the Knicks, the Cavaliers went to select Auburn’s defensive ace Isaac Okoro, who has been a revelation in the preseason so far.
Toppin, who dropped to the Knicks’ lap at No. 8, said he wouldn’t trade the opportunity to play for his hometown team for anything else in the world.
Family of Knicks fans
His mother, Roni Toppin, even tweeted a photo of him wearing a Latrell Sprewell jersey when he was a kid after the Knicks picked him.
Been Knicks fans NY pic.twitter.com/SU4fBjs1g2
— R Toppin (@roni_toppin) November 20, 2020
Toppin’s grandfather Richard Riccardi used to bring Roni to the games.
“I still have a cassette of Go NY Go NY Go and a ticket from the ’93 (I think) playoffs,” Roni told Empire Sports Media in a separate interview.
“[My father] is so proud of Obi. He tells everyone he meets, even the cashier at Costco,” Roni added.
Obi, by his estimate, has been to the Knicks games no more than five times. Roni’s last recollection of bringing Obi to The Garden was when Obadiah Sr., who goes by his streetball monicker Dunker’s Delight, competed as a finalist in The Last Man Standing.
Too bad they won’t be around when Toppin makes his Garden debut to the strict Covid-19 protocols that won’t allow fans to watch in the venue.
Roller coaster start
Toppin was spectacular in his Knicks debut, a 90-84 win against the Detroit Pistons last Friday night. The Brooklyn native had 11 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench. But he followed that up with a dud two days later as the Pistons paid more attention to him.
“I just felt like I was rushing things a little bit more than I was in the first [game],” Toppin said. “I felt like I was a little settled and calm in the first game while in the second game, I was just trying to, basically, do too much. But I have to understand the pace of the game and just flow with that, do anything I can to help the team.“
He’s eager to atone for his lackluster 1-of-9 shooting performance, including two clunkers from 30-feet deep.
“I feel comfortable shooting the three, not super far, not Steph Curry range, but I feel very, very comfortable shooting the three. My teammates found me in spots. I just have to make them. I’ve been working on them every single day, so when the time comes for me to make those shots, I may be able to make them. I just have to slow down and concentrate,” Toppin said.
Those first two games were a learning experience for him. He said he’s starting to get a feel of the NBA game.
Thibodeau saw Toppin’s eagerness to bounce back during their team practice following their 99-91 loss to the Pistons.
“Probably the biggest thing about being a pro is there’s gonna be ups and downs. It’s probably easier the first game. In the second game, he got attention on him,” Thibodeau said.
He added that Toppin could impact the game without shooting well.
“Again, he can score a number of different ways — he can score running the floor, he can score on the post, he can score off the drive, he can score with his jump shot. Mixing it up, scoring different ways, playing well defensively, try getting stops, getting on the open floor,” Thibodeau explained.
“He’s a terrific kid, a great worker. Study film. Each game, you may not win. And if you don’t win… I want you to learn. He took a hard look at himself. And what he could do better. He came in, study, work hard, and he had a great practice today [Tuesday]. And just be ready for tomorrow [Wednesday]. The games keep on coming. You have to keep on getting better.”
Toppin will put those lessons to test against the Cavaliers. Hopefully, he’ll ace it and come out with a win that will make his family of Knicks fans even prouder.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo