Monday, August 6, 2012
September 18, 2002 Wednesday
PATRICK EWING RETIRES
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.