2002-04-13 / Sports

Fade Away Into That Good Night Patrick

By Elio Velez

By Elio Velez

As a N.Y. Knicks fan, there was always one constant that I had growing up. One person, who I could crowto my friends about, as their teams like the Bulls, Pistons or Lakers were winning over the years. I would tell everyone who was the best center in the league but only because that was the only thing I could be proud of.

When I met James Worthy a few years ago at a signing for his new poster, he was at the peak at his powers with the Lakers. I boldly told him that the mediocre Knicks would beat him with Ewing. It seemed if I could will Ewing with a bunch of sad characters to win it all. It became a broken record.

Patrick Ewing, a Knick for 15 years, is at the end of his career with the Orlando Magic. Something that if you told me would happen a few years ago, I would’ve laughed. In these days of free agency, most players shuttle from team to team and loyalty is lost. In most cases, players will not stay with their original teams. Ewing would have been one of those players that stayed until he retired except a few things happened.

He Did Not Win The Big One

Patrick won the NCAA Championship in 1984 with Georgetown, two- time Olympian, multi-time All Star, and leading Knicks scorer all time. All great accomplishments, except that he didn’t beat Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon. Ewing will be blamed forever for guaranteeing wins and not delivering them.

Now it is true that he would just keep blabbing his mouth about guaranteeing wins and making headlines when he didn’t win. Yes, he looked small against Olajuwon when the Knicks should have won in 1994 against the Rockets. But for 15 years, there was no other player on the Knicks who was counted on to deliver the ballgame. Not one player, from John Starks to Latrell Sprewell, could even fathom the weight Ewing had on his shoulders. He was the man, and Garden management did not bring in the supporting cast to help him out.

Pat Riley was brought in as the great coach but Garden management did not bring the Scottie Pippen type needed to alleviate the burden. Fans truly forgot how incompetent GMs from Al Bianchi to Dave Checketts truly was in not bringing in the stars to help Patrick. Not until Ernie Grunfeld came on as GM were pieces of the puzzle such as Sprewell and Houston brought in to help. It was too late.

Ewing Was Perceived As Distant

Fans and the media may not have liked Ewing’s perceived aloofness but did they expect, Mark Messier? Messier guaranteed the Cup, but he was already a champion and one of the best leaders in the sport when he arrived as a Ranger. He could lead with a stare or a great speech such as he did against the Devils in Game 6 in 94. Ewing wasn’t great with words but he was brought in to win championships, not to speak as eloquently as Walt Frazier.

Ewing did things his way and it could be maddening but that is what he is. Experts may say he wasn’t great passing out of the double team, but whom was he passing to score the big basket? John Starks, who shot the Knicks out of Game 7 in 94 with 2 for 18 shooting? Charles Smith, who couldn’t lay up a ball or dunk four times against the Bulls in Game 5 in 93? It was obvious he didn’t have many options and that is the bottom line folks.

Walk On

Patrick left the floor at the Garden last Tuesday with a standing ovation. Did you notice that the standing ovation was from less than a sellout crowd? That didn’t happen during Patrick’s playing days with the Knicks. It was always soldout and Soike Lee, Tom Brokaw and the hottest models would be there. Now, the Knicks are just finishing a lousy season and we all just want them to leave the floor.

Ewing should retire at the end of the year. At 40, the body can’t take the pounding and he is not the 3 or even 4th scoring option on his team. But he could walk off proudly knowing how much Knicks fans miss him and truly appreciate what he has done. Was he a flawed player? Of course, but he deserves your respect and adoration for a job well done. Did you see him smile as he walked off the court, sweat perspiring off of his brow as he waved to the fans? Something I never saw much as I was growing up. It was sure nice to see.

Smile at Patrick and wish him good luck in his future endeavors. Patrick said after the game, "I always imagined my last game here would be in a Knick Jersey." Next time he will be at the Garden will be the retiring and raising of the #33 to the rafters. I will be there as an unabashed fan cheering for him one last time. 20,000 fans will join with me in chorus. It should be a grand tribute. Until next time, Peace.

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