Maybe it’s nothing more than wishful thinking, but NBA legend Patrick Ewing expressed interest in joining the New York Knicks coaching staff with conviction during a recent appearance on ESPN Radio.
As New York scours for a defensive guru to accompany Mike D’Antoni on the sideline next season, the powers that be have seemingly been searching everywhere but its own backyard.
Certainly—as the organization’s all-time leader in every major defensive category—Ewing knows a thing or two about preventing the opposition from putting the ball in the basket.
It’s a travesty that New York has neglected to give Ewing serious consideration, yet it brought his longtime backup Herb Williams on board as an assistant years ago.
Williams, who was even granted the opportunity to become interim head coach for 43 games during the 2004-05 campaign, served as the senior bench coach under D’Antoni last season. He’s been a constant on the Knicks staff for the past decade.
Former players typically make the best coaches because they have a superior understanding of the game through in-depth experience. In no way, shape or form does Williams bring more to the table in that respect than one of the 50 greatest players ever.
Perhaps Williams has a great rapport with the players, and they find his nonchalant demeanor endearing. But, Ewing’s teammates always loved him, and he’s forged outstanding bonds with the big men he’s helped mold during stints with the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets—including two of the NBA’s most dominant centers, Dwight Howard and Yao Ming.
Not every ex-star’s success as a player translates to coaching. However, working alongside the Van Gundy brothers, Ewing’s been tutored by some of the sharpest at their craft.
When asked why he thinks he still hasn’t gotten the chance to prove himself as a head coach, Ewing says he’s the victim of discrimination based on his playing position; he believes centers aren’t as respected in coaching circles as point guards because there’s a stigma that they’re of inferior intelligence.
Ewing argues that this stereotype is completely fabricated, as centers are often responsible for calling out plays and identifying opponents’ schemes. In his defense, NBA icon and arguably the best center in history, Bill Russell, guided the Boston Celtics to two titles in three seasons at the coaching helm.
Despite all of the accolades and recognition as the eternal face of the franchise, Ewing’s run in New York was bittersweet.
Although he took one of the most pathetic teams from the league’s cellar and led them to 13 straight postseason appearances, it’s the negatives that resonate with so many Knicks fans.
The finger roll versus the Indiana Pacers that clanged off the back iron as time expired in Game 7 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Two NBA Finals losses in two tries, including the 4-1 trouncing at the hands of the San Antonio spurs in 1999 when Ewing sat out the entire series due to a partially torn Achilles.
Leaving New York for Seattle after 15 years as a result of frustration over the team’s stance regarding his future. (Ewing wanted a two-year extension beyond his contract set to expire after the 2000-01 season, but management refused to honor the demand.)
Not to mention his public persona for which fans despised Ewing because of his reluctance to mingle with them and sign autographs.
As a private person, Ewing cherished his seclusion. But, in a place like New York City—where athletes are expected to embrace the spotlight—fans were perturbed by this, especially considering the level of his celebrity.
Earlier this summer, Ewing relived these dreadful memories as a guest on CenterStage with Michael Kay. The sorrow consumed his facial expressions as Kay prodded Ewing to recount these events, and he admitted they still haunt him to this day.
Let’s face it. Winning was out of Ewing’s control. It just so happened he played in the same conference as “His Airness” in his prime.
This is no discredit to Ewing’s ability, but it’s questionable whether he could’ve triumphed over Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls even if he had a wingman like Scottie Pippen.
Jeff Van Gundy, Ewing’s coach from 1996-2000, had some encouraging words for Ewing following the announcement of the trade that would send him to the Supersonics.
"I have told him more than once that he is a champion even if he hasn't won a championship. He practiced and played like a champion every day he was here. Seattle is fortunate to get a player of his talent and character," Van Gundy said.
Quite a compliment, but statements like this won’t keep these flaws from eating away at Ewing unless, of course, he redeems himself.
Odds are the Knicks won’t reach the NBA Finals next year, and if they fail to perform markedly better than last season, D’Antoni’s contract will not be renewed. This could open the door for a Ewing reunion.
With the foundation of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony already laid, in addition to the potential to land a third All-Star, Ewing will be able to tap the in-house talent that he was never fortunate enough to go to battle alongside as a player.
As it stands, New York is a center and a couple role players short of a championship-caliber roster. It is not out of the realm of possibility that these pieces would be in place by the time Ewing is hired.
You never know. Ewing could represent the last straw that draws Dwight Howard to the Big Apple.
If Ewing orchestrated an end to this four-decade title drought, his shortcomings as a player would be forgotten, and that love/hate relationship between him and the Knicks faithful would be buried and gone.
Now that would be poetic justice.