- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

Some people are surprised to find Patrick Ewing coaching in the NBA.
Among them is Patrick Ewing.
"If you asked me last year if I wanted to be a coach, the answer would have been no," he said.
The answer became "yes" after he talked with Orlando assistant Johnny Davis while Ewing was playing with the Magic in his 17th and final NBA season. Davis "planted the seed," Ewing said.
"He asked me why I would want to give up all the knowledge I accumulated in my career. Why give it up? There are so many young people in the game today who need somebody who accomplished what I accomplished to teach them some things."
Ewing accomplished a lot of things during 15 years as the center both his position and description of the New York Knicks. Because of that, he is taking a break from his job as a Wizards assistant to attend a party in his honor tonight at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks are retiring Ewing's No.33 and hanging a replica of his jersey from the rafters during halftime of their game with the Magic.
Weather permitting, the evening promises to be a "This Is Your Life" type of affair. The guest list includes several of his former teammates and coaches from the Knicks and the 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team. Michael Jordan, who helped bring Ewing to the Wizards, is on the guest list. So are Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and John Thompson, his coach at Georgetown.
Nothing came easily to Ewing and the Knicks, so it was fitting that even planning the ceremony had some rough spots. Ewing insisted that three former members of the organization president Dave Checketts, general manager Ernie Grunfeld and coach Jeff Van Gundy be with him on the floor, along with Wizards coach Doug Collins. The current management at first balked at the request prompting Ewing to tell a friend, "They can keep their jersey," according to the New York Times but relented.
That unpleasantness aside, Knicks fans are likely to witness an unfamiliar side of Ewing to them. "I want to see him cry for the first time," said the Wizards' Charles Oakley, a teammate of Ewing's for a decade. A lot of people will probably see Ewing smile for the first time, too. He rarely betrayed his emotions, said little to opponents and was even more reticent with the public and media.
"Patrick has always been a private person," Thompson said. "He was not a politician."
Since Ewing outwardly did not seem all that communicative, many wondered about his venture into a profession based on the ability to communicate.
"It's a people-oriented game, and those who don't know him are more surprised than I am," Thompson said. "I thought Patrick would be one [heck] of a coach based on what he knows and how he's studied and watched the game. He has great relations with the people he's involved with."
Van Gundy said he often hears people say they didn't get to see the "real" Patrick Ewing, but he disagrees with that. What you saw was what you got. It just depended on who you were.
"He was a little bit guarded with people who didn't know him," said Van Gundy, who is returning to the Garden for the first time since abruptly resigning last year. "But certainly his teammates and coaches saw a different man than the man on the street saw."
What the man on the street and the fans in the stands saw was an expression that mirrored the way he played.
"Patrick didn't play with that smile on his face or whatever," said Collins who, along with Jordan, decided to bring Ewing aboard. "Patrick played with sort of that growl, that look. That's how he got himself ready to play. That was his demeanor.
"I always tell people I wish they could see the Patrick that I got to know. I got to know the guy who's fun-loving, who laughs, who enjoys himself. I got to witness the great player; now I get to see the great person."
Instead of belaboring what some interpreted as Ewing's sullenness, "the ones we should question are those phonies who serve a happy-go-lucky attitude to the press when they're around but don't give a maximum effort on the floor," Van Gundy said.
"Even though it might have cost him points with how the media portrayed him, he never relented to give his best to his teammates, coaches and fans. Every sport would be better off if every athlete took his job as seriously as Patrick."
Actually, Ewing has loosened up a bit. Having no longer to dish out nor withstand constant elbowing, pushing and general contact might have that effect.
"Now I'm not up to concentrating and getting myself worked up, [having] that demeanor that I have to go out and perform," he said. "I let Doug do that. I'm in the background, so I can relax and laugh and joke. But when I was playing, I didn't have time for that. I had a job to do."
Ewing said he is having a ball, although he can't say if this will become his life's work. "And I enjoy being with that bald guy for his last year," he said, meaning Jordan. He works with the Wizards' big men, who are predominantly young and decidedly less talented than he was. He occasionally joins in, laying his big body on them and trying to remind them what the lost art of playing the low post is all about.
"I don't try to compare them to me or to anybody else," Ewing said. "I just try to get them to work with the wisdom I've accumulated. Hard work does pay off if you want to be good in this league. A lot of guys have talent but don't have the work ethic. If you put in the work, you'll reap the rewards."
One reason so-called superstars sometimes make lousy coaches is because they were so good. You can't teach talent. From his early days at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in Boston, through his four years at Georgetown and then in the pros, Ewing was bigger and better than most. But few worked harder, and much of the work was dirty. He sweated rivers. As the NBA decided that flash skewed better with the public than fundamentals, as centers decided they were really forwards, or guards, Ewing, even with a jump shot as good as any big man's, knew his place. It was near the basket, where the heavy action is (or used to be).
He arrived in 1985, the No.1 pick in the first lottery draft, which conspiracy theorists believed was rigged. He set up camp in the paint and never left. The first thing Collins said in describing Ewing was "warrior," repeating it for emphasis.
"Patrick always answered the bell," said Collins. "He answered it every night and he was willing to take the heat. If everything went badly, Patrick would step up, and it was always on him. If there was a big shot to be taken, Patrick would take it. If it didn't go in, he would be willing to stand up and take that heat, as well."
Even though he is the team career leader in virtually every statistical category, there is some debate as to whether Ewing was the best Knicks player ever. He made the All-Star team 11 times but never was voted the league's most valuable player. He never played for a championship team like Walt Frazier and Willis Reed, who won two titles as teammates.
The Knicks were as artistic as an unsculpted block of granite, and as tough. They were somewhat slow and extremely physical. They played defense. They had to. Ewing never had great support, and he witnessed a changing cast of players, coaches and management that left him frustrated.
"We maximized what we had," Van Gundy said. "We had faults, we made our mistakes. But no one could ever say we weren't ready to play. And that was a direct reflection on Patrick and his leadership."
Reed, now senior vice president of the New Jersey Nets, believes Ewing is the best Knick ever. So does Van Gundy. "But more important is that Patrick stood for all the right things," said Van Gundy, who coached Ewing in more games than anyone lse. "He was our most dedicated player, our most committed to winning, our most prepared, our most unselfish guy.
"Patrick was every bit a champion because he put everything into a winning a championship you can humanly do."
He came close a few times, none closer than in 1994 when the Knicks led Houston 3-2 in the NBA Finals. But the Rockets, led by center Hakeem Olajuwon, won the last two games at home.
In 1999, Ewing did everything he could while playing on a bad Achilles tendon to carry an eighth-seeded team to the Finals. But the leg finally gave out, and he couldn't play against San Antonio. The Knicks lost in five.
In other years, Jordan and the Chicago Bulls got in the way. Ewing's Knicks were 0-5 in the playoffs against the Bulls.
"I'm disappointed I never won a championship in the pros," said Ewing, who led Georgetown to the NCAA title in 1984. "We did the best we could."
Ewing, who never enjoyed a lovefest with the fans, was dealt to Seattle in 2000 by mutual agreement. He played there one season before going to Orlando for his final year. Van Gundy said most Knicks fans are smart and savvy and appreciated Ewing, but a "vocal minority" of critics got much of the attention.
Abbott Seligman, a New York businessman, had Knicks season tickets for more than 10 years before finally giving up in frustration. But he will be at the Garden tonight "for the amount of pleasure I had watching an athlete who tried his best on every rebound, every shot," he said.
"You can't say that about too many people," Seligman said. "He had total devotion to the game. I don't think people realized how hard he was trying. He was consistent, day in, day out, and that's why I loved to watch him. It was consistency and hard work. He was always there."


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