Knicks forward Cleanthony Early took a bullet in the knee early Wednesday from an armed robbery crew who stole his jewelry — including the gold caps off his teeth, police sources said.
Early, 24, was targeted by the ski-masked assailants shortly after leaving a Queens strip club with his girlfriend around 4:15 a.m., sources told the Daily News.
The couple was taking an Uber cab home from the CityScapes gentleman’s club hours after the Knicks beat the Pistons in Madison Square Garden when three cars appeared and boxed them in, sources said.
As many as a half-dozen men jumped from the vehicles, with one shooting Early in the right kneecap — the same one that required arthroscopic surgery last season.
They stole two gold chains, other jewelry and additional items — including the sparkling caps off the second-year player’s teeth — before escaping into the darkness in the industrial neighborhood.
The bridgework bling was later found lying in the street near a spent shell casing. An eyewitness said Early was standing and screaming in pain in the middle of Maurice Ave.
“It was madness in the middle of the night,” said Armand Czapkowski, 39, who lives nearby. “I heard him yelling … It looked like the guy was in pain. He started cursing.”
No arrests were made in the heist about a mile from the club. Sources said Early and his girlfriend were riding in the back of the cab, oblivious to the oncoming threat until the attackers stopped their ride.
The 6-foot-8 Knick benchwarmer, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, needed help from the cops to climb inside an ambulance.
“Prayers for my brother,” tweeted Knicks rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingas.
The injury did not appear to be life-threatening, and Early was taken to Elmhurst Hospital in stable condition. Early called his mother after the shooting to assure her that he was alright.
“I did speak with him,” said his mother, Sandra Glover. “He’s in good spirits.”
Employees with the gentlemen’s club declined to comment when contacted by the Daily News. Several NYPD cars remained parked outside the club on 58th Street in Maspeth hours later as the investigation continued.
The Uber driver was quickly ruled out as a suspect in the hold-up, a law enforcement source said.
A sanitation worker in the neighborhood said he saw police cars and FDNY trucks when he went for a meal break around the time of the robbery.
“They must have followed him down here,” the city worker said. “This isn’t the place people would wait to rob people. There’s no action down here.”
The Bronx-born ballplayer was drafted in 2014 after attending Wichita State, when he led the Shockers to a 34-0 regular season as a senior.
Early played in just 10 games this season, averaging less than four minutes and 1 point per game after being recalled from the D-League Westchester Knicks.
He has battled right knee injuries during his career and missed two months of the 2014-15 season after surgery.
Source: New York Daily News