'This is definitely one of the highlights of my life'
Knicks Raise Ewing's No. 33 to the Rafters
NEW YORK, Feb. 28, 2003 (Ticker) -- Patrick Ewing Ewing was honored in a pair of ceremonies Friday, with his No. 33 raised to rafters of Madison Square Garden and immortalized among the New York Knicks' all-time greats.
Now an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards, Ewing returned to "The World's Most Famous Arena" for a night in his honor. One of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players, he may also be the greatest Knick, even though he does not have the hardware to prove it.
"My whole Knick experience has been great," Ewing said before the game in a news conference in an adjoining building. "It's been something I can cherish."
"The only thing he didn't get was the ring," Reed said. "He did everything he could to do it. If he had a couple more guys, if he had a Clyde, a great shooter like (Dave) DeBuscherre, he would have won."
"They're all great, but he was the greatest," former coach Jeff Van Gundy said.
Ewing had plenty of friends on hand for his big night. The roll call was a Who's Who of Basketball that extended the halftime ceremony to 45 minutes.
Executives included agent David Falk, former Knicks president Dave Checketts and former Knicks general manager Ernie Grunfeld. Former coaches Van Gundy, John Thompson, Stu Jackson and Mike Jarvis were on hand, as were former teammates Doc Rivers, Johnny Newman, Herb Williams, Bernard King, Charles Oakley, John Starks, Louis Orr, Gerald Wilkins, Chris Childs, Trent Tucker, Xavier McDaniel and Kenny Walker.
Knicks uniform retirees Reed, Frazier, DeBusschere and Monroe were introduced, as was former Knick Cazzie Russell, who wore No. 33 for the 1970 championship team. Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Julius Erving and Clyde Drexler -- also among the 50 Greatest Players -- all came to pay tribute to their colleague.
Fellow Georgetown alumnus Alonzo Mourning gave Ewing a big hug and thanked "for what he meant to basketball."
The current Knicks lined up wearing Ewing jerseys before captain and former teammate Allan Houston gave him the keys to 2003 Hummer. Ewing also was given a rack of jerseys of other famous athletes who wore No. 33.
An emotional Ewing finally spoke, rocking back and forth as he tripped over some of his heartfelt words. He thanked his family, former Knicks, teammates and the fans who had a love-hate relationship with him.
"I'll always be a New Yorker," Ewing said.
Flanked by his family, Ewing watched as the banner bearing his number was lifted to the roof amid cheers and tears -- although none from Ewing, who promised himself he would not cry.
In 15 seasons with the Knicks, Ewing averaged 22.8 points and 10.4 rebounds. He is their all-time leader in points (23,665), rebounds (10,759), steals (1,061), blocks (2,758) and games (1,039).
The 1986 Rookie of the Year, Ewing was an 11-time All-Star and two-time Olympian, winning gold medals as an amateur in 1984 and as part of the "Dream Team" in 1992. The impetus for the draft lottery and viewed as the savior when he was made the top overall pick in the 1985 Draft, Ewing was harshly judged for his inability to bring the Knicks a title in his 15 years with the club.
Ewing often found Jordan blocking his path, and although the Knicks reached the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999, they lost both times.
"Despite not winning the championship -- that's something I wanted -- I think I had a great career," Ewing said. "That's the only thing I'm disappointed with, (that) I could never achieve."
In the face of huge expectations, Ewing did more than survive. He thrived, bringing an undying work ethic and true professionalism to the job of being a basketball player on a daily basis.
"He handled the pressure very well," Bernard King said. "It certainly never affected him much on the court. I don't think his career left anything, from my perspective."
"He worked as hard as anyone I've ever been around," said John Thompson, who coached him to a national championship at Georgetown in 1985.
"The things I remember most are behind the scenes -- the practice habits, dedication, loyalty -- all the things that truly define greatness in a person," Van Gundy said.
That loyalty was questioned two years ago, when Ewing was traded after asking for and not receiving a contract extension. He made three returns -- one with Seattle and two with Orlando -- and received a handful of long raucous ovations each time.
"This is definitely one of the highlights of my life," Ewing said Friday. "To go in the rafters with the likes of Willis and the rest of the Knicks, it means a lot."
"Patrick was, is and always will be the one of the greatest Knicks to play the game," MSG president Steve Mills said.
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