Monday, August 6, 2012

Patrick Ewing, 2002 Retirement, Interviews w/ Father and Brother

September 18, 2002 Wednesday


BYLINE: Ian O'Connor, Staff

SECTION: SPORTS; Ian O'Connor; Pg. 1C

LENGTH: 1316 words

Ewing didn't need championship to live immigrant's dream

Carl Ewing heard the cold-hearted taunts fill up a dark high school gym, the echoes crashing around the tallest of his seven children. Ewing was too busy working the 3-to-11 shift to catch many of Patrick's games, but he had been around long enough to understand that this chaotic symphony raging in his ears was not the sound of his American dream.

"They were calling Patrick names and shouting nasty things and I couldn't under-stand," Carl Ewing said yesterday. "It hurt me a lot, but I'd sit there until it stopped. What else was there to do?"

Nothing but return the next day with thicker skin, larger aims and greater re-solve. This was the Ewing way ever since the family of nine made it from King-ston, Jamaica, to Cambridge, Mass., mother Dorothy and father Carl arriving first before saving enough cash to send for their five girls and two boys one by one.

Nine Ewings would live and thrive in a five-room house. Patrick was 11 when it was his turn to come to the States, when he landed with big feet and bigger de-signs. "I wanted to be the next Pele," he said. After Patrick deserted the soc-cer revolution for the all-American asphalt game, kids laughed at his accent, mocked his skill, called him a freak, and told him he could grow 8 feet tall and still never be worth a damn in the paint.

They made Patrick build those angry, defensive walls he'd never tear down.
"When he'd come home from the playgrounds angry about what happened," said Pat-rick's father, a mechanic by trade, "me and his mother told him to get back out there, keep playing, and do the best you can. It was the only advice to give."

It was the same advice they gave when someone fired a brick at the bus carrying his Cambridge Rindge & Latin team, the shattered glass injuring two of Patrick's teammates. It was the same advice they gave when fans spit out racial slurs and held up sick drawings and told Patrick he couldn't read. It was the same advice they gave when overmatched foes started fights in the hopes of double ejections, and when crowds were so thick with fear and loathing - Patrick's teammates said they could feel the hate when they entered enemy gyms - that a Cambridge man with a black belt in karate volunteered to serve as Patrick's bodyguard.

Get back out there. Show no weakness. Give no ground.

"My mother and father basically told me," Patrick said, " 'No matter what you do just give it 110 percent. You may fail, but as long as you know in your heart that you're doing the best you can do that's all you can ask of yourself.' ... Basketball didn't come easy to me. A lot of things didn't come easy to me. But at the end of the day I'm proud of what I accomplished."

Proud enough at the hour of his NBA retirement to know that a champion doesn't need a ring. Ewing saw fit to apologize to Knicks fans - "I'm sorry that I couldn't help bring a championship here" - but added that he was "at peace" with his legacy of blood, sweat and ice packs.

Of course he would've loved to walk away, at 40, with nine bare knuckles instead of 10. In fact, when a friend of Ewing asked him recently if he would put off retirement to accept a one-year, bottom-dollar, Mitch Richmond deal with the Lakers in an attempt to win that ring, Ewing said, "Yeah, I would."

But he doesn't go to work for the Washington Wizards and his chief tormentor, Michael Jordan, with a travel bag full of regrets. Surrounded in the basement of a midtown hotel by a this-is-your-life contingent of teammates, coaches, execu-tives, opponents and Hoyas, Ewing finally breathed public life into an improba-ble tale he should've shared in his prime.

He spoke of himself as an immigrant-made-good, the most American story there is. But Ewing didn't address the subject for long. He opened a window like never be-fore, then closed it almost as fast. He talked of the pride he felt at his Georgetown commencement, keeping a promise he made to his mother long before her death.

He talked in something of an Ellis Island way - "To think that when my mother and father moved us here from Jamaica, and to think about what America brings and that everybody from different countries come here ..." before drift-ing off to other worlds.

"We're a private family, and that's the way us Ewings have always been," Pat-rick's older brother, Carl, said last night. "We call it a quiet proudness. We work hard and we walk with our head up high. We weren't destitute in Jamaica, but we needed better opportunities here. We came here like all immigrants come here: just looking for better days ahead."

Carl Jr. told a reporter that he'd never before granted an interview, the same claim made earlier by Carl Sr. Carl Jr. said he's in his 50s and works in the printing business and lives downstairs from Carl Sr. in their Cambridge duplex. He said he's proud to have a sister, Barbara, who is a chemical engineer, and proud to have another sister, Rosemarie, who earned her masters at Penn.
Carl Jr. said he's proud to have a kid brother who played through physical and emotional pain.

"Once people punctured the tires of his high school bus," Carl Jr. said, "and I was there when they yelled hateful things in the Boston Garden and at the Big East tournament. Then with the Knicks, I don't know if the fans ever realized what Patrick played through. To come back from the wrist and the leg injuries the way he did, how many guys would've done that?

"I mean, Patrick would call up our father and they'd have arguments about this. Patrick would have a scratched retina or something and my father would tell him to sit down and he'd say, 'Dad, it's a game-time decision.' With Patrick, you always knew what that game-time decision would be."

He played hurt like his mother always did at Massachusetts General, working dou-ble shifts in the hospital kitchen so that Patrick wouldn't have to keep wearing that same trench coat and wool cap. So that Patrick could someday replace his undersized bed and remove the bedsheet that served as his door.

"Our mother was the backbone," Carl Jr. said.

"Patrick's foundation was built on her strength, her tears, her joys, basically her life," said Mike Jarvis, Ewing's high school coach. "His being, his essence, his opportunity, was made possible by a very strong woman who ... died of hard work."
Dorothy was claimed by a massive heart attack in 1983. Ewing wanted to quit Georgetown, but couldn't.

"His mother couldn't care less if Patrick became an NBA player and an All-Star," Jarvis said. "Money didn't mean anything to Mrs. Ewing. Education meant every-thing. She told him, 'Patrick, get an education and nobody will be able to take that away from you.' ... He fulfilled the biggest dream of her life."

Dorothy never had time for silly ballgames, so her dream could never be inter-rupted by missed free throws or a wayward finger-roll. Her husband said Dorothy would've been thrilled with Patrick's NBA career nonetheless. Carl Sr. said he watched clips of his son's retirement news conference on TV and did so with a smile on his face.

"I was hoping Patrick would win that championship, but he couldn't be a one-man team and he could only do so much," Carl Sr. said. "I'm just glad he won't risk getting hurt anymore. He had a great career and it's time to move on. We're hum-ble people, but we couldn't be more proud of him."

As Carl Sr. spoke, New Yorkers were calling into radio shows whining about Ewing's parade-free reign. They couldn't see that a champion isn't defined by the rings on his fingers, but by the ice packs on his knees.

"It's been a great ride," Patrick Ewing said.

It's been a great American story too, even if nine immigrants in a five-room house never saw the need to tell it.

Ian O'Connor

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Night Jeter Broke Gehrig's Record

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

Two nights later, a rainy September Friday, the Yankees staged a pregame ceremony to mark the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that changed the world. The crowd of 46,771 honored the fallen, waited through an eighty-seven-minute rain delay, and then listened as Jeter walked to the plate with the elegant sound of Bob Sheppard booming over the public address system in his voice-of-God way.

At ninety-nine, Sheppard was no longer strong enough to work the Yankee games he had been working since 1951, but Jeter was not about to take a cut in the Bronx without that voice introducing him to the crowd. He asked Sheppard to record his voice so it could be played for the balance of the captain’s career, and the P.A. announcer called that request one of the greatest compliments he had ever received.

So Sheppard shepherded him to the plate one more time. Now batting for the Yankees, Numbah 2, Derek Jeter, Numbah 2. The fans were standing and the camera lights were flashing until the mighty Casey struck out.

The captain went down on a curve ball from Baltimore’s Chris Tillman before he ended the newspaper countdowns in the third inning, with puddles forming on the warning track and fans huddled under their wet ponchos. Jeter cut loose his classic inside-out swing on Tillman’s 2-0 fastball and laced it past first base, past a diving Luke Scott, and into a deep corner of Yankee lore. The hit was nearly a carbon copy of the one that had tied Gehrig’s record two nights earlier, nearly a carbon copy of a thousand other singles (or so it seemed) in Jeter’s career.

The shortstop rounded first base, extended his arms wide, and clapped his hands together. It was 9:23 p.m., and Derek Sanderson Jeter stood as the most prolific Yankee hitter of them all.

Jeter approached the first-base coach, Mick Kelleher, and rested an arm on top of his head. The Yanks came pouring out of the dugout, led by Alex Rodriguez, and one by one they hugged their captain as the crowd roared its approval. Jeter raised his helmet high, waved it to all corners of the Stadium, and pointed and pumped his left fist toward his family’s suite above the on-deck circle, where his parents, sister, and his serious girlfriend, actress Minka Kelly, had lifted their arms to the sky.

Wearing a military cap with the interlocking “NY,” Kelly grabbed the pendant around her neck and looked up adoringly at the woman some close to Jeter expected to be her mother-in-law. Nick Swisher, up next, dug into the batter’s box, but the fans kept chanting Jeter’s name, forcing him to wave that helmet one more time.

Once again, Charles and Dot had ordered their son to enjoy this moment. “It’s still hard to believe,” Derek would say. “Being a Yankee fan, this is something I never imagined. Your dream is always to play for the team, and once you get there, you just want to stay and try to be consistent. This wasn’t a part of it. This whole experience has been overwhelming.”

Jeter was surprised by the sight of his teammates coming over the dugout railing, and he was touched by the number of fans who had waited out the rain. “They’re just as much a part of this as I am,” the captain said.

George Steinbrenner would call his shortstop during a second rain delay, and the failing Boss would release a statement through his publicist that began like this: “For those who say today’s game can’t produce legendary players, I have two words: Derek Jeter.”

From The Captain

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Day Derek Jeter was Discovered

In honor of Dick Groch, who is in attendance tonight to watch his blue-chip recruit chase history

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

Dick Groch first saw Derek Jeter at a baseball camp in Mount Morris, Michigan, where the shortstop fi elded ground balls, showed off his arm, and ran the sixty-yard dash. Groch was standing next to an assistant coach at Michigan State who was taken by the teen’s talents and who wanted to get Jeter on his mailing list.

“You’d better save your postage,” Groch told the coach. “That kid’s not going to school.”

The Yankees’ scout had been watching Jeter for only half an hour when he ruined that Michigan State assistant’s day. Groch had been a junior baseball coach for eighteen years, and he had seen dozens of prospects come and go as a scout. He knew a star when he saw one.

“When you look in the window of a jewelry store,” Groch said, “it doesn’t take long to see that big ring. If you’ve been in it as long as I had, you know the difference between going to the Kentucky Derby and the county fair.”

From The Captain

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Day in Cleveland Jeter Proved Clyde King Wrong

George Steinbrenner's trusted aide, Clyde King, wanted rookie shortstop Derek Jeter benched before the '96 season opener in Cleveland

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

Jeter was batting ninth in Torre’s order, and he represented the Yankees’ sixth different Opening Day shortstop in six years. Jeter was facing a forty-year-old Cleveland pitcher, Dennis Martinez, who had been signed by the Baltimore Orioles before Derek was born.

The rookie felt the butterflies in his stomach, butterflies with condor wings. He struck out looking in his fi rst at-bat when Martinez used a sidearm delivery that caught Jeter by surprise. Up again in the fifth inning, Jeter got ahead 2-0 in the count and waited to see if the ageless Cleveland starter would make a mistake. Sure enough, Martinez threw a high fastball, and Jeter turned on it as few thought he could.

He hit it 395 feet and into the left-field stands, giving the Yankees a 2–0 lead. “Wow!” Torre said. “I didn’t see that all spring.” Joe Girardi had the same reaction, as did most of the Yanks.

Clyde King, watching on TV, suddenly had an appraisal that sounded nothing
like the one he had issued in Torre’s Tampa office.

“When he hit that home run,” King said, “I went, ‘Wow, this could be
some kind of player.’ ”

From The Captain

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jeter and Tiger and Scandal

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

The captain’s rocky 2010 actually started near the end of 2009, when his friend Tiger Woods was exposed as a serial adulterer in a scandal that would cost Woods his marriage and good name.Reports said that Jeter had introduced Tiger to one of his mistresses at the center of the storm, Rachel Uchitel, and that Jeter had also dated her at one time.

With so many superstar sports figures engulfed in scandal, Tiger and Jeter had represented the last men standing. That all changed when Woods crashed his Cadillac SUV into a fire hydrant and tree outside his home in the hours after the first Thanksgiving dinner of the rest of his life, unleashing a bimbo eruption to end all bimbo eruptions.

For Jeter, seeing his name connected to the Woods story in any way was an unfortunate development much too close for comfort.

“Man, they’re trying to bring me into this thing with Tiger, and I’ve
got nothing to do with it,” Jeter told a friend. “You see why I didn’t get

From The Captain

How Jeter Got An Extra 4-5 Million Off Randy Levine

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

They met in the skyscraping Trump World Tower home Jeter had put on the market for $20 million, this while Cashman met with his other future Hall of Famer, Mariano Rivera, to work on the closer’s free agent deal in Rivera’s suburban Westchester home. The Rivera talks were as quiet as Rivera himself, even as the Red Sox were making an attempt to extricate him from the Bronx.

Jeter was the one who had to scratch and claw for his money while millions of fascinated fans looked on. Inside his Trump home, Jeter told Levine he wanted more money added to the incentives clauses in the proposal. At the time the offer included bonuses for winning awards such as league MVP, World Series or League Championship Series MVP, Silver Slugger, and Gold Glove.

Jeter spent a couple of hours arguing that those awards are very difficult to win, and that the contract numbers didn’t reflect the degree of difficulty. He made persuasive arguments. Levine absorbed the captain’s points, called Cashman and Steinbrenner while Jeter called Close, and the two sides ended up a yard or two away from pay dirt.

As it turned out, Jeter made himself about $4 to $5 million in extra money in that meeting with Levine. The Yankees agreed to raise the ceiling on the incentives plan to $9 million, and that night the parties set up a meeting for late the following afternoon to close the deal at the Regency in the city.

From The Captain

Monday, June 13, 2011

Steinbrenner's Alternate Choice For Captain

From "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"

Derek Jeter was named captain of the New York Yankees on June 3, 2003. The announcement came out of left field, in Cincinnati, where Joe Torre acknowledged he was not even consulted on George Steinbrenner’s appointment.

Not even six months after he publicly questioned whether Jeter was fit to be captain, and whether Jeter partied too much for his own good, Steinbrenner had cut against his own grain for the sake of old times. He was firing and rehiring Billy Martin all over again.

“It’s something I’ll always treasure,” Jeter said of the captaincy, “and I’ll do it to the best of my ability.”

Strangely enough, entering spring training, Steinbrenner had floated Roger Clemens as his possible choice for captain to a couple of people inside the organization. Clemens over Jeter would have been a terrible judgment call, as the Rocket had established himself with the Red Sox and was not an everyday player. But the Boss adored Clemens’s John Wayne swagger. The thought did not gain any traction, and the homegrown Yankee was left as the logical choice.

from The Captain