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February 02, 1998
February 2, 1998
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February 02, 1998


February 2, 1998

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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 cartoonishly menacing.

Yet there's 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.

Truly Super

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 "yi-yi-yi-WOW!"

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.

Back in the Ballgame

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