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This week in Knicks history: Patrick Ewing’s jersey gets retired

The Knicks are still searching for their next Ewing

The Knicks have become notorious for screwing things up, but 16 years ago this week the franchise got it right when they raised Patrick Ewing’s jersey to the rafters during a glorious ceremony that took place in the middle of a double overtime victory over the Orlando Magic.

The retirement ceremony, which took place at halftime and lasted about 35 minutes, was basically perfect. The decision to honor Ewing by enshrining his number 33 in the rafters of Madison Square Garden came the season after the Big Fella had retired from the NBA. The tribute to Ewing enabled New Yorkers to get the gross taste of having traded him out of their mouths.

You should strongly consider finding and watching the entire ceremony on YouTube, but here’s the part where his jersey joins fellow Knicks legends in the MSG rafters:

The night was especially lovely because the Knicks were still led by a couple of competent players in Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell, and fans didn’t fully realize the team was in the beginning stages of what would turn into a two decade-long downfall that hasn’t even necessarily ended yet. But this post is a chance to remember a happy time, so let’s not dig into that downfall any further.

The Knicks — each wearing an orange wristband with the number 33 on it — won the game in double overtime, 118-110, led by Sprewell, who helped put a stranglehold on the Magic by putting up 28 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds and 5 steals. The performance represented his second ever triple double, and it was also the last time he would record a triple double. Further, Spree is one of only nine players in NBA history that have recorded at least 28 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds and 5 steals, according to basketball-reference, so hat’s off to Ewing for inspiring such a terrific showing from the cornrowed competitor.

Sprewell was not the only Knick who took the significance of the night to heart. He was helped by Howard Eisley’s 21 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists, Othella Harrington’s 21 points and 9 rebounds, and Clarence Weatherspoon’s 15 points and 24 rebounds. Allan Houston contributed 19 points, but shot 6-21 and was 0-6 on three pointers.

Tracy McGrady, who a few years later would become a Knick and thus will always be a Knick, had 34 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists for the Magic. Drew Gooden and Gordan Giricek each put up 20 points, but it wasn’t enough to beat the ‘Bockers. The Magic played without Grant Hill, whose tenure in Orlando was marked by nonstop injury issues. Interestingly, Shawn Kemp was on the Orlando roster, although he only played six minutes and was not a factor in the game.

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

The victory was nice, but the ceremony honoring Ewing is why we’re here. In case you don’t totally get it, Ewing was more than a mere star player. He was a superstar widely admired by his peers, as evidenced by the fact that a boatload of them attended the game the night his jersey was retired.

The guests included many of Ewing’s former Knicks teammates, like Xavier McDaniel, Kenny Walker, Charles Oakley, Gerald Wilkins and John Starks, as well as franchise greats like Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere and Bernard King. Others who made the trip included Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, Alonzo Mourning and Clyde Drexler. Even Jeff Van Gundy, who had quit as Knicks head coach the previous season, showed his face in the Garden for the first time since leaving the team, and received a rousing ovation, according to the New York Times recap of the game.

A host of big time NBA players who weren’t able to make the game sent in tribute videos that were displayed on the jumbotron, including Kevin Garnett, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, Mark Jackson, Larry Bird and Stephon Marbury.

’’You probably don’t know how big you were in my life,’’ said Marbury, who roughly one year later would be traded to the Knicks. ‘’I just remember watching you stand at the free-throw line with sweat pouring down your face.’’

Ewing didn’t cry during the ceremony, which according to the New York Times means he won a bet with Jordan, something that is certainly on brand for MJ.

In addition to having his jersey retired, Ewing received some gifts. A group of former Knicks represented by Herb Williams presented him a bronze statue of himself with his arms outstretched, à la the iconic photo of Ewing after the Knicks beat the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals.

The statue looked like this, but bronze.
Nathaniel S. Butler/ NBAE/ Getty Image

A group of current Knicks, meanwhile, gifted Ewing a black 2003 Hummer. Man, Hummer’s really used to be all the rage.

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Nice gift.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The glowing tribute to Ewing was well-deserved. He was a beast for the Knicks for 15 seasons, making the All-Star team 11 times and becoming the all-time franchise leader in a host of categories. Today, he still leads the Knicks in things like games played (1,039), field goals (9,260), free throws (5,126), total rebounds (10,759), steals (1,061), blocks (2,758) and points (23,665). He’s also the team leader in turnovers (3,321) and personal fouls (3,676), but shut up about it already.

When it comes to the NBA’s all-time leaders, Ewing is 23rd in scoring, 25th in rebounds and 7th in blocks.

Successful NBA teams have superstars, and the most successful teams usually have home grown superstars. Ewing was the latter, and he led the franchise to a golden age of contention that unfortunately never quite featured a championship victory.

The Knicks are still searching for their next Ewing, and no one the team has drafted in the years since selecting him in 1985 has been even close to his caliber. That’s definitive, and certainly not a back-handed jab at the fact that the team recently traded Kristaps Porzingis, the closest player to bring a Ewing-like impact to MSG in recent memory.

Cheers to Ewing, who will forever be the face of the Knicks and is currently killing it as the head coach of his college basketball team, the Georgetown Hoyas, which have performed above expectations this year.

Maybe one day Ewing get his chance to roam the sidelines for an NBA team. Perhaps it’ll be the Knicks! For now though, let’s just enjoy some Ewing highlights as we remember the night his jersey was raised to the rafters.