Whenever Patrick Ewing unfurled his long arms… stretched them out, waaaay out… then began to flap his hands up and down, you knew something magnetic and electric (electromagnetic?) was happening in the Garden. For 15 seasons, Ewing genuinely gave New York Knicks fans something to cheer about, even if the experience resembled a rollercoaster ride, which may I remind you, is a thrilling experience.
The lithe shot-blocking and rim-shaking center was the #1 overall pick in the 1985 draft and would help the Knicks recover from the loss of Bernard King. Ewing himself didn’t disappoint during his first few seasons averaging 20.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG, and 2.5 BPG. The team, though, was a long way from contention, making the playoffs once in the period with an underwhelming 38-44 record.
Things took off for the Knicks in 1989, though, as they blew up their Twin Tower experiment of Ewing and Bill Cartwright. In a fateful trade with the Chicago Bulls, the Knicks acquired Charles Oakley for Cartwright. With Oakley, Mark Jackson, Gerald Wilkins, and Johnny Newman, Ewing finally had a worthwhile cast and the Knicks won 52 games in the 1988-89 season dethroning the Boston Celtics as the Atlantic Division champs.
The playoffs, however, revealed a recurring theme for Ewing’s career: New York was bounced by the Chicago Bulls.
The Knicks slipped a little in the 1989-90 season winning 45 games and were matched up against a resurgent Celtics team in the first round of the playoffs. New York was whipped by a combined 40 points in the first two games falling into an 0-2 hole. Since this was a best-of-five series, the Knicks had no more margin for error.
As it turned out, Patrick Ewing became flawless. Ewing steamrolled the Celtics with an average of 36 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks over the final three games. His gargantuan effort gave the Knicks the shocking series victory.
That series against the Celitcs proved to the highwater mark of Ewing’s early career. The next time New York advanced to the 2nd Round, they’d be a totally reconstructed team under the tutelage of Pat Riley.
These gritty and grimy Knicks engaged in legendary defensive battles with the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, and Miami Heat during the 1990s. As mythic and thrilling as these battle royales were, under Ewing’s leadership the Knicks made the Finals “just” once. That’s a statistic often bandied about to somewhat dismiss his success. Another statistic may prove illustrative of Ewing’s impact on the Knicks.
For 13 straight years they made the postseason. 11 of those years they advanced to the 2nd Round. That streak of success is easily the longest in the history of the Knicks’ franchise.
And although this may not be a theory, it is a fact that in the 13 years since Ewing was embarrassingly traded from the Knicks to the Seattle SuperSonics, the Knicks have made the postseason five times. They’ve made the 2nd Round just once.
Pat’s excellent jump shot, his intimidating shot-blocking, and his infectious dunks, may have eroded due to knee and other injuries by 2000, but it shouldn’t be forgotten just how excellent, intimidating, and infectious he was. Knicks fans and basketball enthusiasts everywhere should take note and properly credit Ewing for his towering impact.
Years Played: 1985-2002
Rookie of the Year (1986)
All-NBA 1st Team (1990)
6x All-NBA 2nd Team (1988-’89, 1991-’93, 1997)
3x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1988-’89, 1992)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1986)
11x All-Star (1986, 1988-’97)
NBA - 1183 Games
21.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 1.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 50.4% FG, 74.0% FT
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1985-86 through 2001-02 season)
4th Points, 13th PPG
4th FGs Made, 6th FTs
6th Rebounds, 11th RPG
2nd Blocks, 7th BPG
8th Games Played, 5th Minutes Played