Ever since KICKS 3 (summer 2000), each issue of the annual sneaker mag—KICKS 10 not included—has contained two or three new inductions into the KICKS Hall of Fame, where footwear legends past and present are honored. This may not be fresh material for those of you who’ve been copping the mag since before the new millennium hit, but for the younger heads, we’re posting the entire HOF online over the course of the next few weeks. (It’ll be archived under the KICKS tab above.) Enjoy, and don’t forget: KICKS 14 is on sale now! —Ed.
by Michael Bradley
He will always be Mr. Lottery, the first player ever taken after the NBA concocted a way to prevent teams from tanking down the stretch, hoping to lose enough games to win first prize in the upcoming Draft. Two years earlier, in 1982-83, Houston had played 700-year old Elvin Hayes 45 minutes a game to ensure that it would end up with a League-low 14 wins and the chance to draft Ralph Sampson. Mission accomplished—and that was enough. The NBA changed the rules. Ping-pong balls, not just overall record, would now determine teams’ drafting fate. It was new. It was novel.
It was fixed?
When David Stern revealed the 1985 Draft order, the Knicks had won big. Surprise! Even though NY had finished with just the third-worst record in the League, fate had chosen the team in the NBA’s biggest market. Not that the L wasn’t rooting for something like that to happen. Not that anybody thought the NBA would go so far as to rig its first-ever ping-pong party. Nahhhhh! Patrick Ewing was coming to town to save the day—fair and square.
He came at a time when seven-footers wanted to play center (what a novel idea). They relished the back-to-the-basket life. Wanted to be the last line of defense. The Knicks needed size and toughness. It was a perfect marriage. Ewing was the ’86 Rookie of the Year, despite having played only 50 games, due to injury. Within two years, the Knicks were back in the playoffs. Within three, they had won a first-round series. In ’94, Ewing led New York to its first Finals appearance in 21 years. For 15 seasons, he WAS the Knicks. The man who had so thoroughly captured the hoop world’s imagination as a sneering, shot-swatting Georgetown ruffian became New York basketball.
At first, many doubted whether he would be anything more than a defender and glass-eater. That’s what he’d done for the Hoyas, operating under strict orders from John Thompson to intimidate and destroy. His offensive game seemed basic and untamed. But perhaps nobody in college basketball history had been more imposing inside. His performance against North Carolina in the ’82 NCAA title game was nothing short of mythic. Here was this freshman, on orders to swat everything that came his way, whether it meant goaltending or not. UNC didn’t actually put the ball through the hoop while Ewing was in the game until 6:30 remained in the first half. Think he made an impact?
With the Knicks, Ewing’s whole game emerged—he scored 20 a night during his rookie season. Yes, Ewing had more than just the brass knuckles. He could play at both ends and even had a nifty mid-range J, something few expected from the 7-0 Jamaican giant. He even had his own shoes. At a time when only the mid-sized guys were deemed popular enough to push product, Ewing’s adidas sleds did pretty well. By the early ’90s, Pat hit the big time with his own brand. This wasn’t just a three-stripe spin-off, but a world unto himself that he concocted. The Ewings were popular, despite a funky-for-then design and Cristal-style pricing. In ’92, Ice Cube gave them the official hip-hop seal of approval by rapping about them in “Gangsta Fairytale 2” off The Predator.
“What is Mister Rogers doing?/Moved out his Jordan, bought him a Ewing.”
Sweet. So big men could sell shoes, after all. And why not? Throughout the ’90s, Ewing was one of the League’s best. Period. But since the NBA focus was on Chicago and its star, the Knick center was always somewhat in the shadows, despite his media-capital-of-the-world address. Ewing was great, but he didn’t have a ring. His numbers were impressive, but he didn’t have a ring. For some, that’s all that mattered. The wins and points and boards were nice, but…well, you know.
And it’s not fair. Ewing came to New York at a time when the NBA was at its strongest. The Lakers and Celtics owned the ’80s. Jordan and the Bulls took over from there. Well, there was ’94. That’s when Hakeem Olajuwon gained his revenge for 1984, when Ewing’s Georgetown bullies smacked around Dream’s Houston Cougars for the NCAA title. It was a seven-game defensive slugfest decided by Olajuwon’s turnaround jumper and the Rockets’ three-point shooting. It was Ewing’s one chance. He didn’t get there.
So some choose to focus on that. Let them. We’ll salute the Knicks’ all-time leading scorer, the man whose arrival signaled a franchise’s rebirth. Patrick Ewing doesn’t have a championship ring. He does have two Olympic gold medals, 11 All-Star selections, nearly 25,000 points. It’s not always good to look at just one thing as the measure of the man. There is often much more to see.
Especially with Mr. Lottery.