Hezonja reflects on viral block vs. LeBron: 'The entire world is watching'
Sarah Stier / Getty Images Sport / Getty

For a young player still trying to find his footing in the NBA, New York Knicks forward Mario Hezonja has made quite the name for himself as a giant-slaying highlight-maker this season.

On Sunday, the 24-year-old Croatian sent Madison Square Garden into a frenzy when he came up with the game-saving block on LeBron James to preserve the Knicks' victory over the Los Angeles Lakers before staring James down afterward.

A few months earlier, he lit up NBA Twitter by stepping over Milwaukee Bucks superstar (and MVP frontrunner) Giannis Antetokounmpo following a dunk, prompting The Greek Freak to tell reporters postgame that he was going to "punch (Hezonja) in his nuts next time." Hezonja responded by saying New York isn't a place for those who feel fear.

Hezonja's highlight reel seems to contain just the right mix of athleticism, drama, and brashness tailor-made for a social media audience craving feuds and storylines. And yet, on a night when he picked up a technical foul for hanging on the rim too long after a dunk in a 36-point loss to the Toronto Raptors, the 6-foot-6 youngster sounded anything but a social media darling.

In fact, when asked by a group of reporters Monday to discuss the fervor of his milestone moment versus James, it was Hezonja's humility that stood out.

On what was going through his head guarding James on the last play against the Lakers:

"I had a couple thoughts, like, 'Holy s---, I'm in The Garden, we're in New York, and I'm picking up - full court - LeBron James. I thought that the first time he picked the ball up under his basket. After that I was just locked in to what he was going to do, but that was my first thought. What helped me is I was doing that all game, so I wasn't really thinking about it, but (the last play) was the first time I actually realized everybody was on their feet, and I'm the only one - it's like one-on-one, full court, you're in The Garden, and the entire world is watching."

On trying to make a play without fouling:

"That has to be luck, because he is who he is. Every mistake that you make is going to be a foul and benefit him. Just try to stay in front of him, hands up, take the contact, and see what happens. I'm glad I got the block."

On if he realizes in the moment that he's about to go viral:

"I mean, I see it when I open social media. It's ridiculous the world we live in now, but I have to do a better job of getting used to it. I'm not into it at all. I'm trying. I have my team helping me with that, but it's difficult for me."

On whether he's careful about what he shares on social media when James is the target:

"I looked up to the guy. I still do. I think he's the first guy whose jersey I had when I was, I don't even know how young. Regardless, even if it was somebody else, I'm not the guy to disrespect somebody on social media. I'm not into trolling, and I don't like social media anyways."

On the now infamous photo from Sunday's game, where it appears he's pointing and laughing at a fallen James:

"That wasn't after the block. That was in the third quarter. They swung the ball to (James), I grabbed the ball, and they called a foul. I didn't know I hit him on the head. Apparently, he was on the ground, but I wasn't paying attention to him. The referee was right in the angle where the (photo) was taken, and I was looking at the referee like, 'What kind of stuff is that you're calling?' I would be the first one to reach out (if I saw him down). That's just disrespectful, but you know how social media is."

On his interactions with James earlier in the game, when it appeared he got a pat on the back from The King:

"He said 'Great defense, 'Rio.' A play before that, I did the same thing (defensively), but they called a foul, so he and I talked about that a little bit, and then next time when I finally got him, he said, 'Great defense.'

"He was actually the first guy to ever talk to me out of all the stars. It was in my rookie year (in 2015 with the Orlando Magic). He was the guy picking me up full court. (Former Magic coach) Scott Skiles put me at point guard. That was not very pleasant, but yeah, he was the first guy to engage in conversation with me while I was on the court as a rookie."

On how coach David Fizdale and his Knicks teammates reacted when watching the play in Monday's film session:

"A couple smiles, but we were serious, because we watched stuff that we did good and bad (against the Lakers), so it was quick."

On if he received congratulatory messages from anyone:

"On social media, as you can see, yeah, but other than that, I wasn't really on the phone a lot, because we're on a back-to-back."

Perhaps Hezonja will live up to his trash-talking reputation with a little more job security. The pending free agent is averaging 7.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and a steal per game on less than 40 percent shooting for the league-worst Knicks (14-57), and had been sidelined for a month because of a leg injury before Sunday's game against the Lakers put him back in the spotlight.

"As a group, and individually, we just have to finish on a good note. Just do what you do. Don't do anything crazy to ruin your value."

Comments
Hezonja reflects on viral block vs. LeBron: 'The entire world is watching'
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!
Daily Newsletter
Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox