Maurice Harkless on his Kobe Bryant connection, Knicks fandom, family struggles

Knicks forward, former St. John’s player and Queens native Maurice “Mo” Harkless takes a shot at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: Tell me about the first moment you heard of Kobe Bryant’s death.
A: I was actually sleeping. We had a game that day in Orlando. My phone was just blowing up. I was taking my nap before the game, and everybody was like, “Yo, this Kobe stuff can’t be real, blah blah blah blah.” I thought it was a dream. I’m like, “All right, like when I am actually gonna wake up? This doesn’t even feel real, this is crazy.” But then, it kinda of just hit me like, “OK, this is not a dream.” It didn’t feel real for the first couple of days. He’s an icon, somebody that left such an impact on the game that we love. It was the first time like a celebrity or someone who I wasn’t like immediately close with like that — obviously we had some kind of relationship, we played against each other, I knew him a little bit, but we weren’t close — so this is the first time I had that feeling from someone who wasn’t close to me.

Q: What do you remember about playing against him?
A: Like he elbowed me in the neck one of the first possessions in the game (laugh). He always competed at the highest level. He was the ultimate opponent.

Q: Elbowing you in the neck sounds like the Mamba mentality, and he probably would have been perfect for the playgrounds in New York.
A: Absolutely. I think he woulda definitely held his own (laugh).

Q: That must have been weird playing against him for a young kid, right?
A: Yeah, absolutely. I tell people all the time: There’s only a couple of guys in the league who, when I first played against them, I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe this,” and he was one of them.

Q: Who were the others?
A: Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan.

Q: What is your on-court mentality?
A: Just go out there and do whatever it takes to win games. Just be a dog.

Q: Fill in the blank: New York has the best …
A: Pizza, people, culture (laugh).

Q: People?
A: Everybody in New York’s real, you know what I mean? People think we’re rude, people think we’re mean, but we’re just real straightforward. I like that.

Maurice Harkless
Maurice HarklessAP

Q: What’s your favorite St. John’s memory?
A: It’s pretty funny, actually (chuckle), it’s not really a good memory, but I always find humor in telling the story. We used to practice at 5:45 in the morning, so one practice, (chuckle) one of the managers yawned in practice and [assistant] Coach [Mike] Dunlap, he hated that, like you couldn’t yawn in practice. And (laugh), he made us run for it, like the players had to run for it. He kicked the manager out of practice. Seriously, though, my favorite St. John’s memory was probably that UCLA game at the Garden [a 66-63 win on Feb. 18, 2012], I think that was one of our best games that year. Everybody was playing together, playing well and we came out with the win.

Q: Head coach Steve Lavin had prostate cancer surgery that year.
A: I didn’t get to be coached by him in games, but he was in practice and stuff. His energy was amazing even when he was sick. He was always out there in drills and high energy in practice. It was cool to see him every time he was able to come.

Q: Did you see former St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca around?
A: Yeah, he’d always been around. He’s still around the program now, which is pretty cool to see. It feels like it’s very real and genuine. He talks to guys on a first-name basis — not even just the players, like managers, coaches everybody.

Q: You just met new St. John’s coach Mike Anderson for the first time. Are you optimistic about the program’s future?
A: I think Mike is a really good coach. You can kind of see he’s already leaving his impact on the way the team plays, and I think just give him some time and get some more players in, I think they’ll be pretty good.

Q: Who was your favorite Knick growing up?
A: I really liked [Stephon] Marbury, him being a New York guy, from Brooklyn.

Q: Who is your favorite Knick of all time?
A: Probably [Patrick] Ewing. I liked Allan Houston a lot when he was here.

Q: Where were the best playground games growing up?
A: I played a lot at Liberty Park. … I played a lot at Lincoln Park. … Ajax Park. A few different parks around the South Jamaica, Queens area.

Q: How did they help toughen you up?
A: One, you’re playing on the concrete, you fall, it hurt (laugh). But you gotta get back up and play. Two, it’s just like I’m playing with my older cousin [Courtney] and stuff. We’re not calling fouls, we’re playing through everything, and a lot of times you’re playing one-on-one. It’s just you and the person, you gotta win. It’s just something about that playground mentality, playing in the cold, it just breeds toughness.

Maurice Harkless drives to the basket for St. John’sAnthony J. Causi

Q: What drove you as a kid and what drives you now?
A: I just enjoy competition, I always have. In everything I do, I try to make it a competition … just beating somebody.

Q: What is your favorite AAU memory?
A: Probably just the first time I played in a Vegas tournament. It was pretty cool to just go out there and be on the Strip, everything looked so big, and … crazy (laugh). It was pretty cool to just go out there and go to like Circus Circus as a 15-year-old. That’s like a dream come true, being from New York.

Q: How did the Garden look to you when you played there for the first time at St. John’s?
A: Low lights around, and the floor is lit up so bright. It’s kind of like a show, in a sense.

Q: How would you sum up your NBA career so far?
A: It’s been a journey. It’s been interesting. … I’ve been lucky enough to be on some good teams and make deep playoff runs, so it’s been quite rewarding. Like I said, it’s been a journey, having played on a few different teams. But it’s been fun.

Q: What kind of career did you envision?
A: Everybody dreams of just being on one team your whole career, but that just doesn’t happen for everyone. So you keep working, keep your head down and take what the game gives you.

Q: You admired Derek Jeter.
A: I loved the Yankees growing up, too. My whole life he was just like my favorite baseball player. He always conducted himself with great professionalism.

Q: What other favorite players did you have growing up?
A: Kobe, Tracy McGrady, Shaq [O’Neal] a little bit, Kevin Durant.

Q: If you could play anybody one-on-one in NBA history.
A: Kobe.

Q: Describe the day you found out your older sister Shakima had cancer.
A: When you hear something like that, it’s always … devastating. I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know much about it. But the doctor said there was a high possibility she would be OK, should be able to beat it, and it worked out, and she was, and I thank God for that. It was out of our hands, we just had to pray and hope everything would work out.

Q: How old were you?
A: 16 or 17.

Q: Describe your grandmother, Barbara
A: She played a big role in my life. She helped raise me and my siblings and my cousin. Sweet lady. Luckily, she’s still around, she still lives with my mom. She sacrificed a lot to take care of us and to help my mom take care of us.

Q: Your mother Rosa worked two jobs — waitress and bartender.
A: She’s New York through-and-through (chuckle). She says what she feels all the time. She works hard to make ends meet. She worked hard my whole life. That’s one of the things I definitely was able to kind of take from her. She loves the people that are close to her, and when she loves somebody, she goes all out for ’em.

Q: Are you New York through-and-through?
A: Absolutely.

Q: Define New York through-and-through.
A: It’s kind of like growing up here you develop a kind of toughness and you develop thick skin. You go through a lot growing up where you’re kind of able to navigate different situations and stuff like that.

Q: When you were a boy, it affected you briefly that your father was not around.
A: It affected me how it would affect every child. You just wonder why not?

Q: Has he ever made an attempt to get a hold of you?
A: That’s personal.

Q: What’s the hardest thing you had to navigate through?
A: Just life. Growing up in some of these neighborhoods and stuff, it’s like so much thrown at you, so much going on. You have friends who end up in other situations, and to be able to kind of … just make it through all that is crazy. Even now, being an adult, you go back to where I grew up and you see some of the same things, and some of the things got worse. It’s easy to get caught up in that stuff, but finding your way through and making something of yourself, whether it be even just going to college and getting a nice job or something like that. … It’s tough growing up in neighborhoods like where I’m from.

Q: You had close friends who messed up their lives.
A: It’s not all necessarily their fault, but just getting caught up in things that go on in those type of neighborhoods.

Q: Where are they now?
A: Some are in prison, some are gone, some are still here. … But things coulda been different.

Q: Were they basketball players?
A: Yeah, definitely some I played basketball with for sure.

Q: Have you spoken to the ones in prison?
A: We speak on occasion, not every day or anything like that. They know I got a lot going on. They don’t try to bother me too much, but they know it’s always love.

Q: When you talk, what goes through your mind about your life and their life?
A: I just talk to them, make sure they’re OK. It’s good to hear their voice and good for them to hear my voice. They’re happy to speak to me and I’m happy to speak to them, and that’s all about it. I don’t compare lives.

Q: Who are athletes in other sports who you admire?
A: Ronaldo, Tom Brady … I love Tom Brady, hate the Patriots. You can’t deny greatness, I mean, he’s great. But I just don’t like his team.

Maurice Harkless
Maurice Harkless dunks the ball for Forest Hills High SchoolPhilip Hall

Q: You liked the Knicks, Yankees and Giants. Favorite Giants?
A: Jeremy Shockey, I love Eli [Manning], Michael Strahan.

Q: You got a $50,000 bonus you earned for shooting 35 percent from 3-point range.
A: I didn’t sit out the game, I just didn’t shoot the 3. Would you?

Q: Two dinner guests?
A: Barack Obama, Will Smith.

Q: Favorite movie?
A: “The Dark Knight,” the one with the Joker.

Q: Favorite actor?
A: Will Smith.

Q: Favorite actress?
A: Angelina Jolie.

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
A: My favorite rapper, Jay-Z; singer, Beyoncé.

Q: Favorite meal?
A: Crab legs or jerk chicken.

Q: What is your go-to New York restaurant?
A: Probably Philippe Chow.

Q: Where’s the best pizza in town?
A: Margherita’s on Jamaica Avenue.

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