Forgotten Finals: Ewing's calling is to coach, but Knicks have never asked
Patrick Ewing and Rudy Tomjanovich talk about the 1994 Finals on CBS Sports Radio's Eye on Basketball show.
More on Forgotten Finals: 1994 Finals remembered for all the wrong reasons
Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing said he’d “love to go back to New York,” but has yet to hear from team president Phil Jackson about the franchise’s head coaching vacancy.
“My family’s still there I still have a home there,” Ewing said Saturday on CBS Sports Radio’s Eye On Basketball show. “I don’t know what is going to happen in terms of who they’re going to have to fill that void. But if I get a call, I’ll be ready."
Ewing, the associate head coach under Steve Clifford with the Charlotte Hornets, joined the show to discuss CBSSports.com’s long-form story and documentary, "The Forgotten Finals," launching Tuesday.
Next week marks the 20th anniversary of the 1994 NBA Finals between the Knicks and Rockets, a clash of Hall of Fame centers that was overshadowed in history by Michael Jordan's absence and by the nationally televised pursuit of murder suspect O.J. Simpson during Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. Ewing and Olajuwon also battled for the NCAA championship 30 years ago, but the '94 Finals would be the only time they would face each other with a professional championship on the line.
“We’ve had a lot of battles over the years; I’ve won some, he’s won some,” Ewing said. “But definitely, I’m still a little salty that he was able to come away from that victory."
The Rockets’ back-to-back titles, against the Knicks in ’94 and Magic in ’95, have often been overlooked because they were sandwiched between Jordan and the Bulls winning three consecutive titles on either side.
“There’s nothing we can do about other people’s opinions and takes on certain things,” former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said on Eye On Basketball. “All I know is we had to go through Ewing, who was a championship-type player. We had to go through Charles [Barkley] and KJ [Kevin Johnson] twice. We had to go through [Karl] Malone and [John] Stockton twice. And then we had to beat San Antonio, who had a great year. I feel very proud of what we did. The second year, we had to do it never having a home-court advantage."
“The Forgotten Finals” explores the rivalry between Ewing and Olajuwon; the shifting of the nation’s attention from the championship clash of Hall of Fame centers to the Simpson chase; the absence of Jordan from the NBA in the 1993-94 season while he tried his hand at baseball; Ewing and Olajuwon going into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame together; and the eerily similar -- and sad -- endings for them in New York and Houston.
“The last time the Knicks had won a championship was back when Willis [Reed] and those guys were playing in the '70s,” Ewing said. “To finally get back there and unfortunately not come away with it, it was kind of bittersweet. And then to find out that in the midst of us playing one of our best games in the series, a lot of America wasn’t able to watch it because they were watching the OJ chase ... "
In Ewing’s 15 seasons in New York, the Knicks made the playoffs 13 times, the conference finals four times and the NBA Finals twice. The second time, Ewing was unable to play against San Antonio in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season due to a torn Achilles' tendon.
“Losing to Houston was tough,” Ewing said. "But the one that hurts the most was losing to San Antonio and not being able to play. ... Having to sit there and watch it and listen to all the comments that the Spurs fans were making towards my teammates and I couldn’t do anything about it."
Ewing recently completed his 10th season as an NBA assistant coach. After unsuccessfully chasing Steve Kerr to coach the Knicks, Jackson is now focused on Derek Fisher, who likely played the final game of his career Saturday night in a 112-107 overtime loss to the Spurs. Ewing, arguably the greatest player in Knicks history, has yet to get a call.
“It’s something that I don’t even try to lose sleep over anymore,” Ewing said. “All I can do is continue to learn my craft, continue to do the best job that I can do and learn from all the people that I’ve worked with and worked for and make sure that when I get an opportunity, I’m prepared.
"Part of it, yes, I do think a lot of people have a bias against big men," he said. "They don’t think big men can do as good a job as point guards, I guess. They fail to realize that, yes, the point guard is the leader of the team on the offensive end, but the center’s the leader of the team on the defensive end. ... When and if somebody decides that they believe in me, then I’ll be ready."
Thunder coach Scott Brooks and Clippers coach Doc Rivers were backup point guards for the Rockets and Knicks, respectively, in '94. Neither played a minute in the series. (Rivers was injured.)
"In this league, you see guards being coaches -- and usually not All-Star guards, but role players, guys who sat and watched a lot," said Tomjanovich, who has gotten to know Ewing over the years and is troubled that he’s never gotten a head coaching opportunity.
"That bothers me some," Tomjanovich said. "I’d love to see him get a shot."
The Knicks have made the playoffs only five times since Ewing was traded to Seattle in 2000, advancing past the second round only once. In many ways, Ewing is more appreciated in New York now than when he played there.
"I think I am very much appreciated,” Ewing said. "Every time that I’ve gone anywhere or seen the Knicks fans or gone back to New York, all the fans make sure they share and embrace the fact that they appreciated everything that I brought to the table for the Knicks. I still felt loved for the most part when I was there, even though a lot of the times we had a love-hate relationship."
After beating the Knicks, the Rockets acquired Olajuwon’s college teammate, Clyde Drexler, and won a second successive title -- sweeping the Orlando team that had beaten Jordan in his comeback with the Bulls.
“Let me just tell you, I did not want to do that starting out," Tomjanovich said of acquiring Drexler. “I figured it's a group of guys that can hang in there and win a championship that I maybe preferred to have stuck with. But the way things were going we really were not responding like a championship team. Our defense had fallen apart.
"The possibility of getting Clyde to come to Houston after playing there at the University of Houston, that was very enticing,” Tomjanovich said. “We didn’t know how it was going to work, and really, that’s the only star that we could’ve done it with in the middle of the season because Hakeem and Clyde respected each other."
Read and hear what Ewing, Olajuwon, Tomjanovich, Marv Albert, David Stern and other participants and observers had to say, 20 years later, as you relive the "Forgotten Finals" with us on Tuesday.
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