ESPNNewYork.com reported on Tuesday that Patrick Ewing declined an offer from the New York Knicks to coach their D-League affiliate, the Erie Bayhawks. The big man deserves better from the franchise he carried on his back for 15 seasons.
He has made it known that he wants to be a head coach and interviewed for that position with the Portland Trail Blazers and Charlotte Bobcats this summer. The Knicks are not in the market for a head coach, but they have had an assistant coaching spot available since Kenny Atkinson left the team in August.
Patrick has expressed an interest in coaching in New York in the past. "I'd be interested in any job, but this is home, naturally," Ewing told ESPNNewYork.com's Ian O'Connor in late March. "I still have my place here (in New Jersey), and I'd love to interview for any job, here or anywhere.”
"I played here. I know the ins and outs of New York, the media, the fans."
It’s that last line which gives New Yorkers a reason for pause. They remember the disconnect that existed between Ewing and the fans, the media and team executives during his playing career.
Ewing joined the Knicks as one of the most highly-touted rookies in NBA history after a spectacular collegiate career at Georgetown University. He led the Hoyas to the championship game three times, winning it in 1984, and the Knicks and their fans expected him to transform their franchise.
But Patrick was a shy man, self-conscious about his Jamaican accent, and was not comfortable in front of the camera. Patrick became more introverted as a result of the racism he faced while at Georgetown. Fans of opposing teams called him an ape and taunted him with bananas.
Georgetown coach John Thompson shielded Ewing from the media, but as the face of the Knicks, playing in the world’s most famous arena, Ewing could not hide. Ill-equipped to be the poster-boy management and the media wanted, he came across as aloof and arrogant.
Ewing worked hard at his game and developed into one of the best shooting big men of all-time. The Knicks could always depend on their center for 20 points, 10 rebounds and two to three blocked shots.
Along with teammate Charles Oakley, he set the tone for a tough, defense-minded team that was a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference throughout the 1990’s. In 1994, he led the Knicks to the Finals, where they lost to the Houston Rockets in seven games. He set a Finals record with 30 blocked shots, but was outplayed by Hakeem Olajuwon.
In 1999, a faster, more athletic Knicks team made the playoffs as the eighth seed and upset the top-seeded Miami Heat in a grueling five-game series. The series is best remembered for Houston’s game-winning shot in the decisive Game 5, however, it was Ewing’s courageous effort on a partially torn Achilles’ tendon which was the real story.
Patrick could barely drag his left leg up and down the court, but the old warrior out-battled his good friend Alonzo Mourning, who was eight years his junior and arguably the best defensive player in the game.
The Knicks went on to face the Spurs in the Finals, but after tearing his Achilles’ further in the second round, Ewing was forced to watch from the sidelines. The Knicks were overpowered inside by Tim Duncan and David Robinson and fell in five games.
Despite his success and dedication, Patrick never won over the Knicks' fans or management. The big fella hobbled his way through one final season in New York and was traded to the Sonics in the summer of 2000.
His legacy with the Knicks includes 13 consecutive playoff appearances, including two NBA Finals, 11 All-Stars selections and he remains the franchise all-time leader in points, rebounds, steals and blocked shots.
Knicks' fans finally appreciated Ewing once he was gone. They realized that multi-talented seven-footers with a huge heart do not fall out of the sky and the playoffs are not an annual right of spring.
Management, specifically owner James Dolan, is not as grateful.
The Knicks' owner must not allow sentiment to interfere with basketball decisions, but Patrick is not a charity case. He paid his dues as an assistant under two of the brightest coaches in the game, Jeff and Stan Van Gundy.
Dolan has been loyal to employees in the past. He stuck with Isiah Thomas after dreadful seasons as the general manager and coach and a sexual harassment suit which embarrassed the franchise and cost Madison Square Garden millions of dollars.
Each time the Knicks made a coaching change over the past decade, Dolan insisted that Herb Williams remain on the bench. If he is that loyal to Ewing’s long-time backup, surely he can extend a favor to one of the greatest players to ever wear a Knicks uniform.
Ewing's awkward relationship with the press during his playing days was not an issue. The big man has grown more comfortable in his own skin and would not be dealing with the media as an assistant coach anyway.
According to EspnNewYork.com, a source close to Ewing said that the former Knick “was a little insulted” by the D-League offer. You can argue that he is being petty or that accepting the job with the Erie Bayhawks would have been in his long-term interest, but that is beside the point.
Knicks' fans have embraced Ewing and it is time for management to do the same. They should have offered him the assistant coaching spot.