A little dishing on sports

The Bronze Age of the Knicks

I just watched the most recent ESPN 30-for-30, which profiled Reggie Miller and the Knicks-Pacers rivalry and of all the things that were of interest to me in the alternately exciting, exhilarating and mortifying documentary, my big takeaway is that I have a newfound appreciation for Patrick Ewing.

As many of you know, I’ve been highly critical of Patrick Ewing over the years, in this blog and out.  And most, if not all of my friends have been right there with me.  So let me make clear, I’m not retracting my criticism of the following Ewing shortcomings:

  1. He was one of the worst post passers in NBA history, a significant liability for a guy who got doubled as much as he did;
  2. His on court leadership was poor at best, which was a huge problem considering the fact that he had two of the biggest knuckleheads (and I write that with affection, especially if Anthony Mason reads this blog — notice I’m not even taking any chances with Charles Oakley) in the league in Starks and Mason in his team;
  3. He was a selfish player, as best evidenced by his unwillingness to yield some of his offensive responsibilities in Don Nelson’s offense despite the fact that he had to drag his leg down the court like a treasure chest in the last few years of his career.

I have to concede two things that I was aware of at the time, but frankly didn’t appreciate the significance of as I watched the Knicks during their Bronze Age (it sure wasn’t Golden) in the 1990’s.

  1. Showtime notwithstanding, Pat Riley had to have been one of the worst offensive coaches ever, and Jeff Van Gundy was barely better.*
  2. As alluded to before, Ewing was far more hobbled by injuries by the midpoint of his career than I even remembered.

The defining play of Patrick Ewing’s career has to be his missed finger roll against the Pacers at the end of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semis.  Next to “Charles Smith” and “Game 5,” more expletives have been uttered by Knicks fans in reference to that shot than any other play in New York in the last 30+ years.  Here are two things I had forgotten about that play:

  1. Ewing caught the ball in the middle of a double-team, 22 feet from the basket and with less than 5 seconds left in the game.  He had to – this is our 7-foot center I’m talking about – beat the double-team and then the help and make a shot, all within 4.7 seconds.

*See Point 1 above about Pat Riley’s offensive coaching.

  1. Ewing was so encumbered by braces, sleeves and other medical equipment to aid him with the various leg injuries he’d suffered, that he looked like something that would more likely be found in a tomb than on a basketball court.

The fact that he beat the double-team is simply remarkable!  Expecting him to then rise up in traffic and dunk on legs less sturdy than Lindsay Lohan’s grasp on reality is well beyond unfair.  I have to say that I’ve never particularly blamed Ewing for that miss anyway, nor have I blamed Charles Smith for Game 5, but it was amazing to see with the benefit of time, how much greater the degree of difficulty was on that shot than I remembered.

I also think not enough attention has been paid to how poorly the Knick offenses of the Bronze Age were constructed.  I recognize that they didn’t have the most gifted players, but it’s abominable that on some of the key offensive plays of the time, the Knicks got the following results:

1993 – Game 5 vs. Bulls – Down one on the last possession, John Starks aborts a jumpshot for a pass to Ewing who attempts to beat Stacey King off the dribble, stumbles and bumbles, and is forced to shuffle the ball off to Charles Smith for his ill-fated attempt to make a layup…four times.

It takes a lot for me and my old friend Fat Al to write off a bar, but there’s a place on Greenwich Avenue that will never have either of us step foot inside its doors again because that’s where we watched the single darkest moment of my time as a Knicks fan.

1995 – Game 1 vs. Pacers – Leading by three with 16.4 seconds left, Anthony Mason, the man Jeff Van Gundy called during the documentary interview, “our worst inbounder,” throws a pass in the general direction of the prone Greg Anthony that is picked off by Reggie Miller leading to his second straight 3-pointer, tying the game up.

Later in same game – Knicks have 7 seconds left to take the ball the length of the floor and get a shot trailing by 2 and Greg Anthony dribbles into the front court before apparently getting ankle tackled by Dwight Freeney, rendering him unable to get a shot off.

Then there’s Game 7 that year as discussed above.  There are quite a few others, but you get the idea.  Given Ewing’s shortcomings as a player, which have been chronicled ad nauseum, it was probably unreasonable to have expected him to also overcome a coach who couldn’t diagram a play unless Magic Johnson was in his huddle.

Watching Ewing hobble around like House M.D., though, makes me really appreciate that whatever I think of him as a player and a person, the man gave everything he had on the court and never complained that he wasn’t 100%.  Patrick Ewing, I appreciate you.

Do you think he limped like that at The Gold Club?


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