His Moment Missed
When the Madison
Square Garden lights go down on Feb. 7 and the NBA All-Star teams are
introduced during the league's night-before-the-game extravaganza, there will
be no spotlight on the New York Knicks center who dislocated his right wrist in
December and is out for the season. That's a shame, for this year's All-Star
Weekend should have belonged to Patrick Ewing.
I write even
though I never had a close personal relationship with Ewing—who's a rather
frosty sort—and never particularly enjoyed watching him play during my eight
years of covering the NBA for this publication. He chugs up and down the court
like a man carrying a sack of feed on his back, and he carves out low-post
space with an awkward assault of elbows and knees like a man crowding onto a
rush-hour subway. Among back-to-the-basket centers, he has the best outside
touch of all time, yet his shot, a fallaway jumper, is never pretty to watch,
an exercise in inexplicable biomechanics.
But game after
game, season after season. Ewing has played hard, indomitably, courageously
and, inevitably, without the ultimate reward, an NBA title. Ewing reminds me of
boxer Larry Holmes (minus the championships). As there was with Holmes, there's
always someone around who's more fun to watch. Hakeem Olajuwon is sleeker and
quicker, David Robinson smarter and faster, Shaquille O'Neal stronger and more
something about the stone-faced immutability of Ewing that makes me root for
him, particularly now, as I watch him jam his 7-foot, 240-pound body onto the
Knicks bench and cheer on his teammates. Like Holmes, Ewing conducts himself
honorably and with a kind of cumbersome dignity, both on and off the court.
All-Star Weekend would have been the perfect time to salute that. But Ewing is
35, and his creamed-corn knees won't hold out much longer. The moment, I fear,
may be gone.
The NFL had a
terrific moment last weekend in San Diego. Sure there was Sunday, when the
Broncos beat the Packers before 68,912 at Qualcomm Stadium. But there was also
Saturday, in a meeting room in the San Diego Convention Center, before about
200 family members and reporters. That's when former Cincinnati Bengals tackle
Anthony Munoz, having just learned that he'd been elected to the Pro Football
Hall of Fame, sniffled through an acceptance speech, and when Canton-bound
receiver Tommy McDonald, speaking by phone from his house in King of Prussia,
Pa., kept choking up and actually said something that sounded like
At a time when the
NFL's biggest postseason news was a new television deal, it was refreshing to
see displays of raw emotion and passion for the game when the selections of
Munoz, McDonald, safety Paul Krause, linebacker Mike Singletary and center
Dwight Stephenson were announced. Standing in the back of the room, linebacker
Ted Hendricks, who was elected to the Hall in 1990, relished the scene.
"It's not corny," he said. "This is a game, man. This is such an
overwhelming moment. When I go to the Hall every summer for the induction
ceremonies, we have a members' luncheon, and we always have a pool on which
inductee will choke up the fastest."
On Saturday the
quickest tear ducts belonged to the 6'6" Munoz, who became the Bengals'
first Hall of Famer and who misted up as he said, "What I had was a gift,
and I appreciated that gift every day." McDonald, who played for five teams
in the 1950s and '60s (most memorably the '60 champion Philadelphia Eagles) and
caught 84 touchdown passes, couldn't hold back his delight—not after having
been spurned by the selection committee for 24 years. "I'm with the big
boys now1!" he bellowed. "There's only one better place to be right
now, baby, and that's heaven! OOOO-EEEE!" The game could use a few more of
those oooo-eeees right now.
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