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Jewish World Review June 13, 2000 / 10 Sivan, 5760

Mile Lupica

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Consumer Reports

Thirty-three is the
loneliest number -- "IF I REALLY THOUGHT the team would have been better without me, I would've sat down,'' Patrick Ewing said. "If any of my teammates thought we were better off without me, they should have told me. I would've sat down for them. Believe me, I'd rather have played the Lakers healthy than hobbled."

It is no longer basketball season here. It is all baseball now. Reggie Miller ended basketball in New York. But even now, people are still talking about Ewing. He leaves his 15th season the way he will leave town someday: As the least-respected great player any New York team has ever had.

Still Ewing doesn't complain or cry about the treatment he gets. He knows how big guys are supposed to act. He knows the game. You take your shot, and when the other guy is better you move on. He will go down to his home in Washington, D.C., at the end of this week, perhaps next week. He didn't watch the Lakers vs. the Trail Blazers Sunday night, and doesn't know how much he will watch the Finals.

Patrick Ewing moves on now, the way we all do.

He was asked what the Knicks have to do to get better between now and November.

"I'm not gonna play general manager,'' he said. "If they make changes, they make changes. If I'm back, I'm back. If they decide they're better without me, whatever anybody says, then I'll have to go play somewhere else. But if they do decide for some reason they don't want me, they have to ask me, because I'm not just gonna go anywhere.

"I just know this: I can still play. I can be even more effective next season than I was this season. I don't have to have somebody else tell me what I can and can't do. I know I'm not as athletic as I used to be, I can't run the way I used to or jump the way I used to. But I can still get you 10-plus rebounds a game, and I can still score between 15 and 20 points.''


He paused, then said, "I know what I can do. No one but me will ever know how hard these last three years have been on me. But I can still play.''

He is tougher than any of the Knicks talking about him. He started the season late and then played 74 games in a row until missing Games 3 and 4 against the Pacers. Ewing said he will work with trainers in both New York and Washington this summer. He says he does not plan to lift weights as much as he has, and will do more running, more shooting. Mostly he will do what he has always done -- Patrick Ewing will work and get ready for next year and believe that next year will be better for him.

He was asked about New York and the treatment he got in the media and from the fans at the end of his 15th season, a season that saw him save his team against the Miami Heat in Games 6 and 7, and finally go out with 18 points and 12 rebounds in Game 6 against the Pacers, even if people acted as if he did as much to stop the Knicks as Reggie did.

One more time: Imagine if Ewing had played as small as Allan Houston did with the season on the line.

"I've been here 15 years,'' Ewing said. "I'd love to finish here but who knows what the future holds? I just know that despite the boos and despite the criticism, I still love New York. And in my heart I believe that a lot of New York loves me.''

He was asked about some of the criticism, veiled and otherwise, from his teammates, because of the record with and without him against the Pacers these past two years. All people talk about is that the Knicks were 5-2 when he didn't play, forget that they were nearly 2-0 ahead with him last year, and that when he came back this year nearly everybody around him was hurt.

When he is down in Washington next week, maybe we can start blaming him for the problems the Yankees are having at the designated hitter spot. But where was Larry Johnson Friday night? Where was Marcus Camby? All anybody can see is No. 33, the world's tallest punching bag. As always, Ewing takes it all. He was asked yesterday what he thinks when he hears some of his teammates complain that he doesn't talk to them.

"It goes both ways,'' he said. "I talk to guys on this team. And I talk to guys on this team who talk to me. Everybody made a big deal when I was hurt, that I wouldn't tell anybody when I was coming back. But I didn't know when I was coming back. I was there every day, doing my work. Did they think I was working like that not to come back?''

He has a bad cold. Sometimes coughing fits would stop him yesterday.

"I love playing basketball,'' Patrick Ewing said on the third day after his 15th season in New York. "When the days comes that I can't do the job, when I'm hurting this team, like I said, I'll move on. Or I'll retire. People think I won't know when it's time. But I'll know.

"When I was the focal point of everything, I got the blame,'' he said. "Now, even when I'm not the focal point of this team, I still get the blame. It's just the way things are. But I'm not gonna sit here and say, `Don't blame me.' I'm not gonna point fingers at anybody else, because that's never been my way. We lost as a team. It's a team game. One individual doesn't lose a series no matter how much people seem to want that to be true. We did our best. We came up short. That's sports. See you in the fall.''

JWR contributor Mike Lupica is author, most recently, of Summer of '98: When Homers Flew, Records Fell, and Baseball Reclaimed America. To comment, click here.


06/12/00: For starters, Yanks up in arms & age

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