Sunday, April 13, 2008
A Toast to Mr. Ewing
On Monday, it was announced that Patrick Ewing had been selected for induction into the James Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall-of-Fame. On Sunday, I watched a moving tribute to him on YouTube, with Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You" playing in the background. I almost started crying. It was sad. I mean, poor Pat. Did any athlete ever work harder to win the ultimate prize, only to come up empty time and time again and ultimately come up short? I'm not so sure.
Why didn't Pat ever win a championship? For the same reasons Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and John Stockton never did, mostly. In other words, he had the misfortune of belonging to the same era as Michael Jordan. Pat could never beat Michael. Ever. Not in college. Not in any of the six times he faced him in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Never. It just wasn't happening. Once Mike won the first one, it was pretty much over; save for the two year period when he was either playing baseball or still shaking off the rust from retirement, nobody else had a chance from 1991-1998. When the door opened briefly in '93 and '94, Hakeem peaked, and their was nothing you could do about that, either. The Knicks made the Finals in '94, lost in 7 to the Rockets, and didn't make it back until 1999, by which time Patrick was 36 and failed to average 20 points for the first time in his career. That year, the Knicks lost to the Spurs in 5 games, with Patrick forced to sit out the series with an achilles tendon injury. It just wasn't in the cards.
Still, though, Patrick had one hell of a run. He was one of the greatest college players of all-time, the star of the most intimidating En-Cee-Double-Ay hoops squads ever, and won a championship in 1984 with the Hoyas, under the tutelage of Big John. He played 17 seasons in the NBA, made 11 All-Star teams, and won Rookie of the Year in 1986. First-team All-NBA in 1990 (28.6 pts, 10.9 rebounds, 4.0 blocks). Amassed 24, 815 points (20th all-time) and 2, 894 blocks (7th all-time). He waged some unforgettable battles against MJ and Scottie in the early 90's, and while his Knicks never could quite get to the top of the mountain, they were in contention for most of his time there. He was one of the deadliest shooting big men in the history of the sport, and the image of him trudging up and down the court for the 'Bockers, with the flattop squared perfectly atop his dome, his mug drenched in perspiration, double-sized sweatbands on his wrists, white padding on his knees, is an indelible one.
Patrick was the heart and soul of not only the Knicks, but Gotham sports in general in the first half of the '90's, NYC faithful's most consistent source of quality athletic entertainment with the Jets, Mets, and Yankees all struggling and the Giants up-and-down. You can make an argument that he was the greatest player in franchise history. Furthermore, the man was simply a warrior (I know you've heard that before) - you could never accuse him of not trying hard enough, of not giving 100% effort, of not playing with enough dedication. Ewing left everything he had on the Madison Square Garden floor, committing himself wholeheartedly to his organiztion, his teammates, and his city.
And when you do that, some fancy-schmancy little piece of jewelry becomes almost inconsequential. Patrick Ewing didn't need no damn ring to solidify his career. He was a champion without it.