- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Patrick Ewing never won an NBA championship.

That is a prominent part of this particular Hall of Fame dossier, misleading as it is, even unfair if implemented as an indictment.

Ewing would have had one NBA championship if not for the 2-for-18 shooting performance of John Starks in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals. He might have had another, in 1999, if healthy enough to infringe on the dominance of Tim Duncan and David Robinson.

Ewing's 17-season career, perhaps two seasons too long, was complete otherwise, fashioned on ample doses of hard work and perspiration. He was not a pretty player, and not always celebrated. He was a workhorse who could finish a game with the dullest 20 points and 10 rebounds around. That is not a criticism, just the way it is in a perception-driven league that counts playground-like flair as a quality.

As a 7-footer, Ewing was dependent on the backcourt players in his vicinity, and in all too many of his seasons with the Knicks, the backcourt players were either indifferent or hurtful to the team.

Ewing joined a franchise that was out of ideas in 1985, and still clinging to its championship years in the early '70s. Ewing made it easy on Dave DeBusschere, the general manager of the Knicks at the time and a holdover from the glory years. DeBusschere shed his front-office reserve after winning the lottery, pounding his fist on a table in glee, a disingenuous display if the NBA conspiracy theorists were to be believed.

That is how special Ewing was considered at the time, and not just to the team that earned the right to draft him, but to a league that needed New York to be relevant again in the NBA. Ewing succeeded there in time, though it took far longer than anticipated, and a championship never felt really possible until Pat Riley showed up in 1991. It just so happened, unluckily for Ewing and Riley, that Michael Jordan and the Bulls showed up to the altar of greatness at the same time.

It is easy to forget the remarkable amount of changeover that marked Ewing's 15 seasons with the Knicks and the number of unremarkable first-round draft picks enlisted to aid him, from Kenny Walker in 1986 to Jerrod Mustaf in 1990 to Monty Williams in 1994. The Knicks never could find the right players to put around Ewing, perhaps because the philosophy of the team changed as often as the coaches.

Ewing came into the NBA under Hubie Brown, now one of the talking heads with Turner Sports, and spent his last season in Orlando under Doc Rivers, a former contemporary who was only 10 months older than Ewing.

By then, in Orlando, Ewing was functioning on two broken-down knees and distant memories of who he once was, once so active and agile, so protective of the basket. That was his principal interest at Georgetown, what the basketball nation first noticed in the national championship in 1982, when he blocked everything in his midst in the first few minutes of the game against North Carolina. The message, though littered with goaltending calls, might have been decisive if Fred Brown had not passed the ball to James Worthy in the final seconds.

The errant pass was the first of the hard-luck circumstances that bedeviled Ewing's pursuit of the top prizes. Villanova shooting a preposterous 78.6 percent in the 1985 national championship game was the second, followed by the 2-for-18 meltdown by Starks in 1994 and a body that betrayed him midway through the postseason in 1999.

In a way, fate's collective blow against Ewing came to obscure his national championship with the Hoyas in 1984.

By the time Ewing left the Knicks in 2000, in a trade with a trace of hard feelings, the notion that he was somehow less a savior in hindsight was seemingly dispensed to soften a difficult goodbye.

Ewing also was negotiating how to say goodbye, only to a game he no longer could dominate and to the expectations that went unmet.

He spent a season in Seattle before finishing up in Orlando. Neither move was as compelling as the one he revealed in the Gold Club trial in Atlanta last year. It was at the Gold Club that Ewing received preferential oral treatment from a dancer on two occasions while the club owner and manager watched.

That was the kink that went with the chink in the portfolio.

"I'm disappointed that I never won a championship in the pros, I've got to add," Ewing said yesterday. "But I'm at peace."

The disappointment is assuaged by a well-deserved place among the NBA's 50 best and a job with the Wizards.

The principle is obvious. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, Jordan in particular.

Jordan hit the game-winning shot against the Hoyas in 1982 and eliminated Ewing's Knicks from the playoffs five times.

Jordan, too, holds a distinctive place in the Ewing file.

Fate and Jordan.

The two punctuate Ewing's worthy career.

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