NEW YORK (AP) – As Patrick Ewing talked about his retirement, there was a softness in his eyes, a relaxed look replacing the glare he used while establishing himself as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.
Then Ewing saw old pal Charles Oakley in the back of the room and his eyes danced. “My hit man, Oak! We had some times, didn’t we, Oak?” Ewing shouted from the podium.
Indeed they did.
And for a fleeting moment yesterday, Ewing was back under the basket with Oakley, the two battling for baskets and bounces, trying to put the New York Knicks over the top.
They never quite got there, but they had fun trying.
For 15 years, Ewing was the centerpiece of the Knicks, New York’s go-to guy. There were two wrap-up seasons with Seattle and Orlando, footnotes to a career as one of the league’s most dominant centers.
The 40-year-old Ewing finishes his NBA career with 24,815 points and 11,606 rebounds. He’ll move on to become an assistant coach for Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards.
The 11-time All-Star holds a number of Knicks records, including leading scorer (22.8 points) and leading rebounder (10.4). Most of the time, Oakley was right there with him.
“He came to work every day,” Oakley said. “He put a lot of effort into what he wanted to do, what he wanted to accomplish.”
Also attending Ewing’s farewell news conference were ex-teammates Charley Ward, Allan Houston, Herb Williams and Mark Jackson; coaches Mike Jarvis, Don Chaney and Jeff Van Gundy; and Miami’s Alonzo Mourning, out for the season with the Miami Heat because of his kidney condition.
Ewing was asked how he wanted to be remembered.
“As a hard hat,” he said. “A hard nose. The work ethic I brought, I gave it 110 percent. I thought I had a great career. I have no regrets. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I enjoyed every minute.”
The NBA championship was the missing piece of the puzzle for the man who led Georgetown to three NCAA finals, including the 1984 title, before becoming the No. 1 pick in the first NBA lottery draft.
“I’m disappointed I never won a championship – in the pros,” Ewing said. “We did the best we could to help the franchise win one. It didn’t happen. That’s life. You’ve got to move on.”
In 1994, Ewing led New York to a 3-2 lead over the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals before losing in seven games. He said his greatest memory was converting a putback on a shot by John Starks that beat Indiana for the Eastern Conference title and put the Knicks in those finals.
Ewing was injured in 1999 when the team lost in the finals in five games to the San Antonio Spurs.
Now, he’ll be an assistant coach with the Wizards, Jordan’s team.
After general manager Wes Unseld signed him, Ewing was asked about the irony of working with Jordan, who often denied him his shot at an NBA title.
“Instead of needling me from afar, he’ll be needling me in the same town. We’ll be in the same organization,” Ewing said.
Pat Riley, who coached Ewing and the Knicks to the finals in 1994, said: “I’m sure that his next career in coaching will be just as successful as his playing career.”
For owner Abe Pollin, the signing of Ewing brings an important asset to the Wizards.
“It will be a unique opportunity for our players to be tutored by three of the 50 greatest players of all time – Michael Jordan, Wes Unseld and now, Patrick Ewing,” he said.
Ewing said he had thought hard about retiring, discussing it thoroughly with friends and family.
“It’s still a hard decision,” he said. “It’s still 50-50. Should I play? Should I retire? I felt I could still play.
“It’s time to move on. It was a great ride.”
So what happens if sometime next season some NBA team decides it needs help in the middle? Is Ewing available?
He laughed at the question.
“A few teams called,” he said. “I made this decision anyway. Unless one of the Wizards goes down and they tell me, ‘Put down the pad, we need you to go get some shots …”‘