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Forgettable Knicks’ season ends, but bonds remain

In October, Mindaugas Kuzminskas received an invitation to meet with Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania. Kuzminskas, the 27-year-old Lithuanian forward in his first season with the New York Knicks, assumed their meeting would come in a government building somewhere in Manhattan with security officers present. Instead, it took place on bleachers in Times Square.

Their conversation was wide-ranging, and Grybauskaite, who had previously lived in New York and Washington, offered Kuzminskas a perspective on the challenges of adapting to a new country and a big city.

Grybauskaite then told Kuzminskas she was about to see the Broadway show “Cats.” It was going to be her fifth time seeing the play, her favorite.

The next day, Kuzminskas went to the TKTS booth beneath the bleachers where he met Grybauskaite and bought two tickets to “Cats'’ — for himself and his girlfriend, Egle Andreikaite. When they sat down in the theater, Kuzminskas was told by the man seated next to him that he was seeing the play for the 10th time.

And now Kuzminskas is a fan, too. He’s seen “Cats” twice.

“I love it,” he said. “Some people like movies or something, but I like musicals because everything is happening live. They’re singing live, they’re dancing. Sometimes they making mistakes, sometimes not. It’s really interesting how talented people are.

“Even when I was going a second time for ‘Cats’ — when you’re going more times to the same show you see more details, different things. So if somebody would say, Let’s go tomorrow to ‘Cats,’ I would go a third time.”

Going to “Cats” was one of the ways Kuzminskas immersed himself in New York. He is part of a group of new Knicks, and while the team’s won-loss record ended up a mess — and there is unrelenting intrigue about Carmelo Anthony and where he may end up — New York has been an interesting experience for the new players, and sometimes an uplifting one.

No one has enjoyed the city more than Kuzminskas, who has long had an affinity for the theater and concerts. When he signed with the Knicks, going to Broadway shows was near the top of his to-do list. Since he signed, he has seen “Phantom of the Opera,'’ “Jersey Boys,” “Chicago” and “The Lion King.”

Ron Baker, a point guard who grew up in Kansas and played at Wichita State, is half a step behind Kuzminskas. He has taken in some shows, but says his primary concern when he visits Manhattan is orienting himself.

“Getting your sense of direction, like where things are, kind of helps,” he said. “I grew up in Kansas, so like when you’re in the middle of nowhere, you try to use, like, the sun and the roads as directions. So when I’m in the middle of the city and I can’t see the sun, I just need to know where the Trade Center is or where Brooklyn is, where Jersey is, Times Square, those things, so I can point to different locations.”

Baker prefers movies to plays. He is the Knicks’ movie guru — appropriate for a player whose teammates nicknamed him Ron Burgundy after a character in “Anchorman.”

And it is not just Baker who is offering up movie analysis. “We’re basically giving each other Yelp reviews each night,” said Marshall Plumlee, a rookie center.

Each of the new players — some younger, some older — seems to have an area of expertise. Veteran guard Sasha Vujacic has his own winery and turned part sommelier and part Zagat guide for some of his teammates.

Plumlee, who went to Duke, became the team’s resident tech expert. He was, he said, consulted on purchases and computer malfunctions.

Courtney Lee played the role of munificent veteran, organizing regular movie nights, some in the New York area and others on the road.

“We do stuff for them, but they bless us with some free movie tickets,” Plumlee said of the veterans. “And then Courtney Lee took us all out for Chipotle. He’s a good veteran.

“And every now and then Courtney Lee might have me sneak in some Five Guys” — food from the restaurant chain — “into the movie theater. So I’ll sneak in six guys’ worth of Five Guys. I’ll come in with a jacket and look like I’m a fat guy.”

This activity may seem like a footnote to a season that went nowhere. And yet some of this season’s Knicks will return, even if Anthony doesn’t, and the bonds built now will carry over. Lee, who has played with numerous clubs over a decade in the NBA, told Plumlee that the Knicks this season were more close-knit than the average team.

Though the season has ended, Kuzminskas still has several plays he wants to see. Vujacic has recommended “Hamilton,” a play he adores. While Kuzminskas wants to see it, he’s hesitant.

“I’m not sure if I’m ready with my language and with how much I know about American history,” he said. “I think I will leave it for the future.”

Yes, the future, when the Knicks may be a better team. But for now, the new Knicks actually have some nice memories of the 2016-17 season. It’s just that a lot of those memories aren’t about basketball.

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