The Knicks have been among the NBA’s premier struggling franchises for what feels like forever, but in reality it’s been two decades, as the slide began 20 years ago this week when Patrick Ewing was traded to the Seattle Supersonics.
The four-team, 12-player deal was announced Sept. 21, 2000, and it sent the Knicks into a tailspin from which they haven’t yet recovered. In total, for the 15 seasons Ewing played on the Knicks, the team was 138 games over .500 (668-530), reaching the playoffs 13 straight times starting in 1987-88. In the 20 seasons since Ewing was traded, the team is a collective 322 games under .500 (643-965), with just five playoff appearances.
Though the trade was traumatic and led to many years in which the relationship between the Knicks and the Big Fella felt strained, the two sides now seem to be on good terms. In 2010, Ewing said that if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t have requested a trade, and in 2019 he even represented the Knicks in the 2019 NBA draft lottery.
Still, the Ewing trade haunts the franchise and its fans to this day, since it marks the end of the last period of sustained success for the team. In order to avoid repeating past mistakes, we must learn from history, so let’s look back 20 years to the week the Knicks traded Patrick Ewing.
Ewing wanted out. But why?
Today, it’s relatively common knowledge that Ewing requested to be traded from the Knicks. Less discussed are the reasons surrounding Ewing’s trade request. Already 37-years-old during his final season with the Knicks, Ewing was a man hampered by many injuries, and in 1998-99 the team had made it to the championship despite his absence from most of the Eastern Conference Finals.
In the summer of 2000, the 38-year-old center knew he was on his way out of the league, but wasn’t ready for it to be final just yet. That July, with one season remaining on a four-year, $60 million contract, Ewing was quoted as saying that he wanted to play three more years total.
“If it’s New York, it’s New York,” he said. “If not, it’s somewhere else.”
The Knicks could have extended him for a couple of years and allowed his career to come to a graceful end in New York. Or they could have let him play out his last year before either re-signing him or letting him walk in free agency.
As late as Aug. 2, 2000, less than two months before the deal was made, then-General Manager Scott Layden said the following when asked about Ewing:
‘’I don’t want to address any rumors,’’ Layden said. ‘’But as far as Patrick is concerned, we still stand by our comments and feelings about him. He’s the captain of our team, and a vital and important part of our team.
‘’He’s a guy that has meant so much to this franchise. We think in order for us to win and move on in the playoffs, he needs to be part of this team.’’
By the end of the month, however, sources were telling the New York Times that the Knicks were “pursuing deals to trade Patrick Ewing.”
Then the Knicks traded Ewing. Only the trade didn’t go through.
In late August, the Knicks had a Ewing deal ready to go. The four-team transaction, which would have featured the Knicks, Sonics, Lakers and Pistons, was set to see the Knicks acquire Glen Rice and Vin Baker, with Christian Laettner and Chris Dudley going to Los Angeles and Ewing heading for Seattle. But Detroit backed out.
On Sept. 12, 2000, the New York Times ran a story with the following headline: Latest Talk About a Ewing Trade Appears to Be Over
It wasn’t over. Ewing still got traded.
Nine days after that NYT story, Ewing was gone, traded to the Sonics as part of a massive, four-team deal that brought back Rice, plus Luc Longley, Travis Knight and some other pieces of scrap metal. A less realized fact is that the Ewing trade also represented the end of the Chris Dudley era in New York, as he was sent to the Phoenix Suns. Thanks for the memories, Chris.
Even as the trade was announced, the Knicks knew they had just created a giant chasm on their roster. Take it from Chris Broussard, who at the time worked for the New York Times and is the reporter who wrote the story about Ewing being traded:
The Knicks realize that this is not a good deal for them, either. If they do not complete another trade — one that would land them a frontline power forward or a top-flight center — they will enter training camp on Oct. 3 having dropped several notches.
The Knicks never nabbed that frontline power forward or top-flight center. And while the team did make the playoffs in 2000-01, they were on the precipice of a disastrous, multi-decade downfall, having traded the best player in franchise history instead of figuring out how to repair a damaged relationship.
Huh, the very last part of that sentence sounds kind of familiar.