MIDTOWN — As a gay man living in Brooklyn, 27-year-old Nick Porto constantly looked over his shoulder on his nightly walks home, but he never felt a twinge of fear while spending time in Manhattan.
All that changed on Sunday when Porto and his partner, enjoying the warm weather along with the rest of the city, were knocked to the ground and beaten by a crowd of rowdy New York Knicks fans shouting homophobic slurs — in broad daylight, just steps from Madison Square Garden, the victims said.
The couple was assaulted by four men on Eighth Avenue, between West 34th and West 35th streets about 5 p.m., cops said — as the Indiana Pacers played the Knicks on Sunday.
NYPD officials released surveillance photos of a person of interest early Tuesday morning. He is described as in his 20s, approximately 6 feet tall, with brown hair and a tattoo on his left forearm. He was last seen in a white T-shirt, white sneakers, jeans and a Knicks #7 jersey.
Police could not say whether the attack was a hate crime, as it was still under investigation, but Porto, who was left with a broken nose and severe headaches, said there was no doubt in his mind.
"I've never had a feeling like this before in the city," Porto said from his partner Kevin Atkins' home in Bed-Stuy.
"I didn't know that it's not over, that this sort of stuff still happens."
Porto said that he and Atkins, 22, were walking arm-in-arm down Eighth Avenue after a leisurely brunch when a group of men he said were in their early-to-mid 20s and wearing Knicks jerseys started shouting slurs at the couple.
"They called us f----ts," said Porto, a clothing designer. "They made fun of my jeans — I made the jeans myself, for that day."
When Porto turned around and asked why they were shouting at him, the group of men knocked the pair to the ground and began to violently kick and punch them, he said.
"Fists started flying. I was on the ground, and the only thing I could do, I reached out and grabbed someone's hair," Porto said.
The men fled before police could arrive, and a detective told the pair that there were so many people in the area wearing Knicks jerseys, it would be hard to identify their attackers, Porto said.
Both men were taken to Bellevue Hospital, where Atkins was given a cast for his broken right wrist. Atkins' bag, with an iPad and cellphone, was also destroyed in the attack.
"I'm so upset — it's my fault, I spoke back to them — that Kevin was hit. He didn't deserve it whatsoever," Porto said.
"I was that idiot that should have just walked away."
The attack left Atkins, who works in reality television, unable to do his job, which requires a lot of typing.
But for Porto, the attack's emotional and mental toll will last far longer than any physical injuries — he's lost the feeling that New York is a safe place to be a gay man.
"I was being foolish," he said. "I was so naive to think that things were better here."
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at nypdcrimestoppers.com or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then entering TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.