This Day in Black Sports History: February 28, 2003

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This Day in Black Sports History: February 28, 2003
Al Bello/Getty Images

Although he excelled at cricket and soccer growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, Patrick Aloysius Ewing rose from poor beginnings to become one of the 50 greatest players in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

After his parents immigrated to the United States, settling in Cambridge, Mass., Ewing, his brother and five sisters would follow four years later when family funds permitted.

In spite of a marked Jamaican accent, Ewing was determined to succeed academically since entering grade school, taking summer school classes and obtaining help from tutors to ensure his education would not stop at the high school level.

Ewing first shot a basketball in a neighborhood pick-up game at the age of 12, quickly learning the game as he grew to six feet six inches by eighth grade, drawing the attention of several prep basketball head coaches.

As a high school student at Cambridge’s Rindge and Latin School, Ewing led his team to three state championships and earned an invitation to try out for the 1980 Olympic Men’s Basketball Team when no other high school athlete had ever been invited.

Impressed to find a team coached by an African-American man, Ewing chose to attend the University of Georgetown, where John Thompson stressed that his best bet was a college education because a small percentage of college athletes make careers in professional sports.

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Ewing’s junior year would be marked by the sudden death of his mother and the unplanned pregnancy of his high school sweetheart.

Nevertheless, Ewing turned down the endorsements and millions of dollars waiting for him in the NBA to keep the promise he made to his mother that he would graduate from college.

With Ewing patrolling the paint, the Hoyas reached the NCAA Championship Game three consecutive years, winning the title in 1984 as their imposing center captured the Outstanding Player of the Tournament Award.

During that same year, Ewing would also win Olympic gold as a member of the men’s basketball squad.

In 1985, the league instituted the first ever Draft Lottery to prevent teams from deliberately losing games to secure a better chance of obtaining Ewing, who was unanimously considered the draft’s grand prize.

The New York Knicks would end up winning the Lottery, and selected Ewing with the first overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft.

Although injuries marred his first year in the league, Ewing was named the Rookie of the Year, averaging 20 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks per game. In the seasons that followed, Ewing would come to be regarded as one of the premier centers in the league.

Al Bello/Getty Images

From 1988 to 1999, Ewing led the Knicks to 13 consecutive playoff appearances, four Eastern Conference Finals and one NBA Finals appearance, while averaging better than 21 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per contest.

Over the course of 15 seasons, Ewing played in a franchise-record 1,039 games for the Knicks, the only player to play 1,000 games with the team.

As part of a seven-player deal, the Knicks shipped Ewing to the Seattle SuperSonics in 2000, where he would play one season. He added another with the Orlando Magic before he announced his retirement on September 18, 2002.

On February 28, 2003, the 11-time All-Star’s jersey number (33) was retired by the Knicks in a grand ceremony at Madison Square Garden, officially going down as one of the greatest players in the franchise’s storied history.

Five years later, Ewing was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball of Fame as an individual player, and in 2010 as a member of the 1992 gold medal-winning United States Olympic Men’s Basketball “Dream Team”.

Ewing has been an assistant coach with the Magic for the past five seasons.

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