The playoff series between Miami Heat and the Charlotte Hornets can bring with it a surprising flood of memories for Knicks fans, particularly when the camera pans over to Hornets assistant Patrick Ewing sitting on one bench and Heat VP Alonzo Mourning sitting behind the other bench. In its own way, the Ewing-Mourning rivalry continues to this day.
But the two Hall of Fame big men are far more than on-court rivals. Ewing helped recruit Mourning to Georgetown University, worked out with him in the offseason, and advised him during his pro career. They may have shown each other no quarter on the court during those fearsome Knicks-Heat series, but off the court they share a bond akin to brothers.
Director Jon Weinbach tapped into that relationship for the Sports Illustrated documentary short "Patrick and Zo", which chronicles their intersecting paths through college, the NBA, and beyond. Mr. Weinbach was nice enough to answer a few questions about our beloved Knicks legends and our despised Heat nemesis.
What about the relationship between Ewing and Mourning drew you to this project?
"We [Mandalay Sports Media] have been in discussions with Sports Illustrated about their plans to expand video content, and we've done a lot of sports documentaries -- 30 for 30's, short and feature-length documentaries for HBO and for others -- and we kind of cam up with a master list of topics. And it just so happened that one of the projects that I had been working on was a project with Kyrie Irving, who shares representation with Alonzo Mourning. And the rep said, 'Well we're representing Alonzo, and no one's really looked at the relationship between Alonzo and Patrick. Even though it's we-known territory, you know, there's a great story there.' So I'll give credit to Colin [Smeeton] and Perry Rogers for creating the interest, and then we did our own digging and realized that this is a very unique relationship that kind of gotten, if not forgotten, then overlooked over the years because the Knicks and the Heat, for all their wars on the court, they never really played for anything beyond the second round.
"And the timing was very good. In one version of the story we thought about taking it to Alonzo and Patrick's kids. You know, Alonzo's son Trey is a top player at Georgetown and Patrick Ewing Jr. is now a coach at Georgetown, so the levels kind of kept growing."
In the film Patrick and Alonzo joked about John Thompson's "no jumpers" rule for them when they played at Georgetown. Did they get into how Thompson treated them at Georgetown -- were their any similarities or any differences?
"Oh yeah. I don't think it's overstating it to say that he is a father figure to both of them. Thompson liked to say that Patrick came to Georgetown because they were good, but he lifted them to another level. Patrick was really the builder of that program to stratospheric heights -- they went to three Final Fours in four years -- and it really did put Georgetown on the map. So when Alonzo came, Georgetown was already this basketball and pop culture force.
"You know, Alonzo came from more of a broken home than Patrick. Patrick had an intact family, and it was less actual father figure and more about mentor in terms of basketball and life, whereas with Alonzo there was a lot that John Thompson did for him that was, I think, different than what he did for Patrick. He shielded him -- he shielded all of his players from the press, but there was a lot of attention when Alonzo got there that there was something untoward going on in the recruitment of Alonzo Mourning, and John Thompson stepped in. There was a famous criminal in D.C. [Rayful Edmonds] who befriended Alonzo and people in his circle and Thompson went to prison to visit the guy.
"You see it when Alonzo goes back to Georgetown. He treats coach Thompson with -- and it's really cool to see it -- with love, and real respect, and seeks his counsel and wants to know what he thinks about things."
As a Knicks site, we gotta talk about 1997. In the film Alonzo talks about the '98 series, and says if he hadn't got suspended the Heat would've won. Did Patrick talk the same way about '97?
"Oh yeah. They joked a lot about it. I think that is burned Patrick, because he felt '97 was there best team. They were playing their best -- that was the first year they had Houston and L.J. and Childs. I have a transcript here. We covered it more in Patrick's interview, and there was only so much we could talk about -- it was supposed to be a short film and it ended being 30 minutes, just because there was so much great material.
"Patrick talked a lot about it in the interview, that that was the team that he felt was primed to go to the Finals, that they could really challenge the Bulls. And he felt that the NBA was wrong, and that he would say it to David Stern's face if he could, that he felt they got jobbed, they got really screwed over."
(After our talk, Mr. Weinbach pulled up a snippet from that Ewing interview: "We could have possibly beat the Bulls and get into the Finals, that's how good we were playing at the time, and unfortunately that altercation happened, and I stepped onto the court and looked, and after that I see that other people stepped onto the court and not get suspended, it just pisses me off cause its not like I went out there and got involved in the fight. I just stepped on and stepped back off and got suspended for it.")
With Ewing right now, his biggest thing is trying to become a head coach, and in the film 'Zo talked a little bit about how much Patrick helped him at Georgetown. Did Alonzo talk at all about Ewing's coaching career, and what kind of coach he would be?
I think he feels that Patrick deserves to be a head coach. And I think he believes that not just because, you know, he's Patrick Ewing and he was his mentor and was his older brother and his friend. You know, it's like like Patrick has just come onto the scene and was hoping to nail it in his first year; he has really paid his dues. This this at least his third team -- first with Houston, then with Orlando and then with the Hornets.
In fairness, the way that the Hornets have played this year with a roster that -- while good, I don't think anyone would say it's an elite roster. Frank Kaminsky, he is a guy that you see Ewing working with all the time and Al Jefferson, all the time, and Cody Zeller, and those guys have really improved.
I think Mourning feels like sometimes stars -- superstar players -- in a weird way get not-great treatment as coaching prospects because the thought is "Hey, they're lazy. They're not going to work as hard." And I think he feels like Ewing deserves that chance, that he's proven he's not just there to pick up a paycheck.
I highly recommend y'all take the time and watch this film. You might even start feeling positive emotions toward Alonzo Mourning. I doubt it, but anything's possible!