Years later, Patrick Ewing would sit beside the long oak desk in a corner of the Georgetown basketball office. He’d spoken with great enthusiasm of this present passion, coaching his alma mater. He’d talked about the difficulty folding away in storage trunks all the memories he’d stored up as a player.
“My life is a coach now,” he’d said, laughing. “Nobody wants to hear me tell old war stories. These guys [he pointed toward the Hoyas’ practice gym] only want to kid me about how short my shorts were when I played here.”
There was testimony to back up Ewing’s words; Georgetown is a Nike school, and that means there was an Air Jordan logo on his shirt, and his sweatpants, and the windbreaker he’d worn to the office, there was a large silhouette of Michael Jordan mid-flight dominating one of the walls.
“I can’t escape him,” he said, chuckling. “But business is business.”
Still, Ewing admitted to only one regret that occasionally slipped from those locked boxes of memory, that ate at him still.
“I wish I knew I was playing my last game as a Knick when I played it,” he said. “I would’ve liked to take a few mental pictures of that.”
The smile grew a wisp melancholy.
“All I know is, that the season ended with a loss,” he said. “Again.”
He was hurt again that spring of 2000, because that was the image of Ewing as a Knick at the end: limping, wincing, squinting, swaddled in ice, prone on a trainer’s table, as likely to emerge from the Garden tunnel in a high-end business suit as in warm-ups.
In 1998, he’d broken his right wrist, missed most of the year. In ’99, a bum Achilles robbed him of the last four games of the Eastern Conference finals with Indiana, and all of the Finals against San Antonio.
This time, it was tendinitis in his right foot. It flared during the Knicks’ opening-round sweep of the Raptors, limited his effectiveness during their annual seven-game crusade with the Heat (though he’d gotten 20 points and 10 rebounds during a gutty, grisly, 83-82 Game 7 win in Miami).
But against the Pacers in the East finals he hurt himself early in Game 2, missed Games 3 and 4 (both narrow Knicks wins) and returned to help stake the Knicks to an 18-point lead at Conseco Fieldhouse in Game 5 before the Pacers stormed back to win and creep within a game of clinching the Finals.
On the morning of June 2, 2000, Post readers were greeted with this annual rite of spring on Page 1:
Ewing guarantees Knicks victory tonight
It is sometimes difficult to remember the way those Knicks used to invigorate the city. They hadn’t won a title as a group, but they were the hardest out in the sport; the Pacers learned that the hard way the year before. There was little doubt they would take care of business that night, then engage in some manner of epic passion play two days later back in Indy.
“I guess it’s just going to have to be one of those series for us,” Ewing said then. “This team thrives on adversity. We’ll win.”
They didn’t win. They came out inspired for a quarter, allowing the 19,763 in attendance to believe, but then the Pacers ran them off the court. Reggie Miller scored 34, shot 5-for-7 from 3. Dale Davis had 16 rebounds. The final was 93-80 but felt much, much worse. Indiana’s Mark Jackson kissed the Garden floor at the final buzzer.
Ewing played 37 minutes in agony, scored 18 points, grabbed 12 rebounds. When he was pulled late in the game there was a modest stirring from the scattered remains of the crowd. As he walked toward the tunnel, he spotted a familiar face who’d worked for the team for each of the 1,174 games he’d played as a Knick.
“You’re still the man,” he told Ewing.
“No,” Ewing said, smiling, “not anymore.”
“You’ll still get your ring,” he was told.
“I hope so,” he said, disappearing into the darkness, into the locker room, where he would soon greet reporters in his familiar light blue terrycloth robe, his feet buried in dueling ice buckets, where he was immediately asked if he would be back for the final year of his $16 million contract.
“Definitely,” he said.
He wasn’t. It would take 110 days, but on Sept 20, the Knicks shipped Ewing to Seattle in a four-team deal that, in the immediate, yielded Glen Rice, Luc Longley and Travis Knight — and in the long run locked them in a salary-cap jail in which they languished for almost a decade. Ewing lasted two more years, never looking quite right in the garish colors of the Sonics or the Orlando Magic.
Never getting that ring. Or the final chapter he so craved.
In his Georgetown office that Friday in October 2018 Patrick Ewing — who recently revealed he’d been treated for COVID-19 — reiterated what he’d said on the night of Feb. 28, 2003, at Madison Square Garden, when his number, 33, was officially lifted to the Garden rafters, taking its proper place among the franchise giants.
“I’m a Knick,” he said. “I’m always going to be a Knick.”
Twenty years ago Tuesday, without knowing it, he said goodbye to that chapter of his life. He wishes it could have gone differently. He isn’t alone.
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