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Jewish World Review August 23, 2000 / 22 Menachem-Av, 5760

Mile Lupica

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Bound for glory & maybe Seattle -- THE BEGINNING was so much simpler than what everybody assumed was an ending for Patrick Ewing in New York. Ewing was going to Seattle in a trade that seemed to include enough players to start a new team -- and then he wasn't.

Glen Rice and Vin Baker were coming to the Knicks and then they weren't. So Ewing was not just caught between last season and next season, he was caught between the only professional team he has ever known and what he had assumed for most of the day was a new team, a new beginning for him, at the old basketball age of 38.

And it made you remember the day in the spring of 1985 when we were sure Ewing would put the Garden on his back the way Willis Reed once had.

"He was going to be the cornerstone of something special,'' Dave DeBusschere said late yesterday afternoon. "I was sure of it.''

This was at a golf outing for some of DeBusschere's Wall Street friends at the Piping Rock club in Locust Valley, L.I. It was here that Dave DeBusschere was told that Ewing was on the verge of being traded. And he was asked to remember that day in 1985 when he was still running the Knicks, and he heard David Stern say that the first pick in the upcoming NBA draft belonged to the Knicks.

All Knick fans who were around then remember the picture of DeBusschere, the tough old Knick champion, with his Christmas-morning face, making a fist, then making himself sit back down in his chair. Ewing, the Georgetown center, the one we were all sure was going to be the next Bill Russell because of all the rebounding and seven-foot shot-blocking he had shown in college, was going to be a Knick.

Yesterday DeBusschere was asked what he thought about in that moment and he said, "Championships. Many championships.''

DeBusschere paused. "But all he did was come close,'' he said.

This was about 6:30 p.m. on Monday. Word of a four-team deal involving the Knicks, Sonics, Pistons and Lakers had been running around the Internet and the wires for most of the afternoon. Ewing to the Sonics, Baker and Rice and Travis Knight to the Knicks, Christian Laettner to the Lakers, draft choices and money to the Pistons, along with players they could dump after one season so they can make their run at Chris Webber, local kid, when he becomes a free agent.

A couple of hours later the deal was put on hold. The word at the time was that Detroit was holding it up somehow. The deal was finished and then suddenly unfinished. It sounded like something out of Hollywood.

"Is the deal done?'' screenwriter William Goldman once asked a producer.

"Sure,'' the producer said. "It's just not done-done.''

Patrick Ewing was done in New York for a few hours yesterday, then not done-done. Already people were deciding whether they liked the deal, whether they thought Baker and Rice for the 38-year old Ewing was fair value, what the Knicks might do next if they had Glen Rice, Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell on the basketball team. Would they go after Webber themselves? Would they go after a point guard? Or maybe a center? Would there be more moves to come?

Then nobody moved.

Even at the end, if this was the end for Ewing, nothing was easy for him. But then things haven't been easy for a long time, maybe all the way back to the night that could have changed everything for him in New York. It was Game 6 of the NBA Finals in June of 1994 and John Starks had a jump shot to win the championship. Ewing wanted the ball inside. But Starks was hot. He was going to be the hero of this drama. He had brought the Knicks back on this night.

He squared up on the left side and Hakeem Olajuwon came out and tipped the ball just slightly. Then Starks shot 2-for-18 in Game 7 and the Knicks lost. And when the Knicks got back to the Finals in 1999, Ewing was on the bench in streetclothes because of an injured Achilles. That was a series, against David Robinson and Tim Duncan and the Spurs, when none of the radio screamers and no screaming headlines wondered whether or not the Knicks were better off without Ewing, because they weren't. They wouldn't have gotten anywhere near the finals if Ewing, on one good leg, hadn't played one of the games of his life against Alonzo Mourning in Game 5 of the first round.

People often forget games like that when it is time to add it all up for Ewing. By the time the Knicks got to the Eastern Conference finals this year, and there was once again the debate about whether or not the Knicks needed Ewing, people had already forgotten the 18 rebounds he got in Game 6 against the Heat. The Knicks were down 18 in the first half that night and 15 at halftime and Ewing was the reason they weren't behind 25 at the half on the night when the Heat could have ended the basketball season in New York right there.

Ewing has played 1,039 regular-season games for the Knicks and might never play another. He has averaged 22.8 points and 10.4 rebounds, and in 135 playoff games, he has averaged 20.6 points and 10.5 rebounds. If he is on his way out the door, it is worth remembering again that he is the least respected sports star in the history of team sports in the city.

Dave DeBusschere didn't think it would work out that way in the beginning. None of us did. "Winning championships is hard,'' he said. What hasn't been for Patrick Ewing?

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.


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