EAST ORANGE, N.J. — This is the really big man on Broadway, the way Ed Sullivan used to put a "rilly big shew" on television. Patrick Ewing is the big man to break the spell of Charlie Tyra. Ewing is the man to fill the fans' dreams as well as the empty seats at Madison Square Garden.
But not yet.
First, before he can deal with the corporation's ghosts that are no concern of his, he has to deal with himself. This is not an easy league for a man to take over with his bare hands. When Ewing leaned the pointed corners of his big body against Steve Stipanovich in a recent exhibition game, Stipanovich had an equally big body with pointed corners to lean back. This is not the Big East, mister.
Don't look at the box scores for the number of points Ewing scores or the number of shots blocked or rebounds collected. Not yet. Look for that around February.
The first measurement of Ewing, the professional, will be minutes played. That means how long he can stay in the game. The game is 48 minutes long and coach Hubie Brown plans to have Ewing out there and going hard for 38 minutes. Planning, in some manners of speaking, is synonymous with praying.
"What we have is a proven shot-blocker, rebounder and defensive intimidator, and an un-proven offensive star, but with excellent potential," Brown said. "But he must stay on the floor and give you the minutes."
So far that's not been easy. Rookies with big names always have to prove themselves and there's no question of how hard Ewing works, but there are some special aspects here. He comes from the Big East Conference, where he didn't have to match up with a real low-post center for four years. The real challenges he saw were in the Olympics, practicing against Jon Koncak and Joe Kleine.
With Georgetown, Ewing was on a superior team, which was the first advantage. When he took his position with his feet planted and his elbows spread like a big eagle, he was unchallenged. When his elbow hit Chris Mullin's cheek in the Big East Tournament, the game moved on. When Ewing flexed his muscles he made others back off. "People he was in affairs with were so small," Brown said.
Now, in the seven NBA exhibition games he's played, he's seen Jeff Ruland, Tree Rollins, Koncak, Darryl Dawkins, Stipanovich, Akeem Olajuwon and Artis Gilmore, all of whom are more than willing to give more than they receive. "Everyone is not only better but much better than guys he played against in college," the coach said. "They are as big and strong as he is and they have established offensive moves and the refs know them."
Ewing has to learn the offensive moves the other players make and he has to learn what the referees permit and don't permit. He has to stay away from what the players regard as "picky" fouls. That's supposed to come when he knows the moves to expect when he's on defense. A good offensive player is not supposed to adapt himself; he's supposed to make the defense adapt.
That is, unless the defensive player is so good.
And when things don't go well with the referees or against the other players, Ewing will have to deal with himself. It's much easier to be tolerant when your team is always ahead, but the Knicks may not be ahead too often in the early going. A fighting spirit is a terrific thing, but it has to be under control.
The exhibition games were an awkward baptism. He was thrown out of one game after fouling out; he had a shouting match in one game and fights in two others. He has to cope with losing. In his first year in the NBA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar lost more games than his teams had in college and high school combined.
If Ewing lets the losing frustrate him, it will cause more losing. He can't permit other players to take advantage of his temperament, otherwise they will. He can't lose sight of himself in the noise of a referee's whistle.
"The temperament will come with understanding of his role," Brown said. "He will establish a rapport with the cops on all the teams. They will learn to respect him."
That means coming to an understanding with the likes of Moses Malone that Ewing will not be intimidated but that they will be able to coexist. Malone has been playing a few years and intends to play a few more.
The league ruled that Ewing's elbow set off the event in which Stipanovich wrestled Ewing to the floor and bruised Ewing's elbow. Wednesday, having been informed that the league had fined him, Ewing waved away the media. "I got nothing to say," he declared.
At Georgetown, he was not allowed to be questioned on his behavior--or much of anything. In New York he won't get off the hook so easily. Brown will explain to him that it will be much more difficult not to adapt to the media. That will be a function of modified temperament.
But the potential is so vast. Brown thinks of Ewing in terms of the Lew Alcindor who came out of UCLA to become Abdul-Jabbar and of Bill Russell, who won everything as a pro.