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A dream scenario for Ewing

By Frank Dell'Apa
Globe Staff / September 6, 2008
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SPRINGFIELD - The United States dominated the competition in the Beijing Olympics. But that group does not compare with the 1992 team, according to Patrick Ewing and Magic Johnson.

"They asked Magic [Thursday] night if the Redeem Team would beat the Dream Team," said Ewing, 46, after being presented with a Hall of Fame jacket during induction ceremonies yesterday. "And he said, hands down, 'no.' They wouldn't stand a chance against us."

Performing for the 1992 Olympic team might have been the apex of Ewing's career. He was among the best players on the best basketball team in the world, an Olympic champion. Ewing did not win an NBA title, though he helped the New York Knicks get to two Finals.

" '92 was one of the best experiences," Ewing said. "It kind of fell off after we won [gold] in 1984. So they called in the big guns to come back. One thing about the Dream Team that was so great was, even though we knew each other and had played with each other in various All-Star Games, you aren't together for a long period of time; the Olympics, we were together for a month. I got to know Larry [Bird].

"And we went over [to Barcelona], did what we were told to do, we kicked butts. We were like rock stars, the media coverage, the fans."

Ewing seemed destined to capture an NBA championship once the Knicks hired Pat Riley as coach in 1991. But Ewing and Riley did not exactly hit things off when they first teamed up.

"Our first training camp was in Charleston, S.C.," said Riley, who was also inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. "He had heard how long, hard, demanding my practices were. And we went about three hours, and then got together and went '1-2-3 Knicks.' He said, 'Is this all you have?' The next day he paid the price. True story."

Ewing and Riley went on to help the Knicks to 223 victories in four seasons, plus a 1994 Finals appearance.

"He does have a great memory," Ewing said. "We did have about a 3-hour long practice and I might have said that as a joke. The next day we went about 4 hours. We had some extremely long days."

Ewing credits Riley with being a major part of the Knicks' resurgence in the '90s.

"We have a great relationship," Ewing said. "He's an outstanding coach and I cherish the four years he coached me in New York. Ernie Grunfeld and Dave Checketts came to the Knicks and they brought him in and they brought stability the franchise needed. We got to the promised land twice but, unfortunately, we didn't come away with [an NBA title]."

Ewing regrets leaving the Knicks after 15 years (he played a year with Seattle and a year with Orlando) but appears to have accepted the team's defeats in the 1994 and '99 Finals.

"Looking back at my career, I feel I had a great career," Ewing said. "Naturally, I'm disappointed I didn't win a ring. But I don't think that defines me. What defines me is my whole body of work, from grade school to high school to college, the Olympics, to the pros. I consider myself a winner. There are a lot of people who have won who aren't winners, and a lot of people who haven't won who are winners."

As for leaving New York? "Sometimes, you make decisions, and with hindsight you probably wouldn't have done," Ewing said. "[The Knicks] probably feel the same way. At the time I thought it was time to move on. You get tired of hearing the same thing over and over again, that the team would be better off without you. With hindsight, I should have stayed and finished my career in New York."

Ewing said expectations should be different for his son, Patrick Jr., who joins the Knicks this season.

"I'm not worried about him having big shoes to fill," Ewing said. "Hopefully, his career will be as long as mine was and he'll be successful. I love my son, he's a great kid. We're different. I came in as the first player taken in the draft, he's coming in as a second-round draft choice. He knows from being my son, like I told him, he knows what it takes to be a great player. He was with me every day, day in, day out going to the gym, working out. Now he doesn't have to study for tests, he can give 110 percent and focus on what he needs to do to be a great player."

Ewing said he visited the Hall of Fame as a youngster.

"Growing up in Cambridge, I'd been to the Hall of Fame," Ewing said. "But never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be in it."

Ewing said he turned down a chance to attend UCLA after graduating from Cambridge Rindge & Latin. "I had the opportunity to go to UCLA but it was too far away," Ewing said of deciding to attend Georgetown University. "I wanted to get out of Boston but still be close enough to my family." . . . Riley, meanwhile, hoped to make his career in Boston. "I was always for the Celtics," Riley said. "I was a big John Havlicek fan, I embodied myself after him." Riley, president of the Heat, made his first coaching impact with the Los Angeles Lakers in some epic games against the Celtics. "Whatever I did, it seemed I landed in the right place with the right team," Riley said.

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