NEW YORK — Once Patrick Ewing got his first look at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook, he had the usual reaction.
"I thought, 'Oh, my, how am I going to stop this thing?' " Ewing said.
Many others before Ewing have wondered the same thing. Not too many people have much luck stopping that thing and neither did this 23-year-old rookie playing his first game against this 38-year-old, 16-year veteran center.
In what surely was a matchup for all ages, experience and youth battled pretty much on even terms Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, which was only fair because it closely resembled the game in which they were both involved.
The Lakers came away with a narrow victory, 105-99, and that was expected. Abdul-Jabbar scored 26 points, and Ewing scored 28. That was also expected.
So call it a draw, right?
"No, we won," Laker Coach Pat Riley said.
But not by much. For some reason, the Knicks always seem to play the Lakers tough, and this one was no different. A sellout Garden crowd of 19,591 watched not only Ewing and Abdul-Jabbar, but also saw the Knicks hold the Lakers to a season-low in points.
Unfortunately, the Knicks followed a season-long trait and didn't score enough themselves.
It was no fault of Ewing, who made 9 of 17 shots, 10 of 14 free throws, took down 9 rebounds and earned the respect of Abdul-Jabbar.
After the game, Abdul-Jabbar hurried off the court and waited for Ewing in a tunnel outside the locker rooms so he could give Ewing a little tap and a few kind words.
"He just wished me a happy holiday," Ewing said.
Not until late in the game did the Lakers dare to wish for a happy ending. With 3:41 left, the game was tied at 94. Abdul-Jabbar quickly untied it with a sky hook and a free throw.
Four more Laker free throws offset two by Ewing before Abdul-Jabbar put the game just about out of reach, 103-96, with 55 seconds remaining on a breakaway slam dunk.
The Knicks had a chance to cut the lead to one point after a three-point play by Ewing and a turnover by James Worthy, but Magic Johnson stole the ball from Louis Orr.
So ended the season's first encounter between the league's reigning monarch and the heir to his center position. Abdul-Jabbar was limited to only 33 minutes because of foul trouble, but he made 10 of 17 shots, blocked two and had eight rebounds.
This time, the defense of his position was secure, although Abdul-Jabbar said it may only be a matter of time before Ewing asserts his claim to a greater degree.
"He's a fine center," Abdul-Jabbar said of Ewing. "When he gets more seasoning, he'll be a very, very good center. He's only been in the league two months and he's already doing a very good job under difficult circumstances."
Those circumstances happen to be that the Knicks revolve almost completely around Ewing because of the absence due to injuries of veterans Bernard King and Bill Cartwright.
Knicks' Coach Hubie Brown kept Ewing on the floor for 45 minutes out of a possible 48 and in the end, that meant the Lakers were able to wear him down a little. Even though it was only a little, it was nevertheless enough.
Trent Tucker supported Ewing with 22 points, but Abdul-Jabbar received much more support from his teammates, especially Johnson, who scored 10 of his 18 points in the first five minutes of the third quarter.
Those became important points, because up until that time the Knicks had been successful in their slow-down, deliberate style. Even though the Knicks remained close until the last minute, Johnson's third-quarter perimeter shooting enabled the Lakers to assume a degree of control.
They surely weren't in that position the first half, which ended in a 48-48 tie. Then, when Riley began to use Maurice Lucas more in the second half, the Lakers were able to beat the Knicks at their own game. Lucas finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. He often forced to guard Ewing because Abdul-Jabbar couldn't do it because of his foul troubles.
If Abdul-Jabbar couldn't stop Ewing, neither could Ewing stop Abdul-Jabbar. That is possibly the only way this encounter should have developed anyway.
Brown sent Darrell Walker body-to-body with Johnson, which effectively slowed the Laker running game to a halt. But it didn't win the game for the Knicks.
Maybe that didn't matter. After all, the lasting impression from this game was certain to be the play of Abdul-Jabbar and Ewing. However, both downplayed their matchup.
Abdul-Jabbar: "I just wanted to win."
Ewing: "I respect his ability."
Ewing said he felt nothing special playing Abdul-Jabbar for the first time, although Ewing admitted he knew he was playing the league's best center.
"I did an OK job, I guess," Ewing said.
Brown, who credited Ewing with a better performance than that, said a good role model for his star pupil would be Abdul-Jabbar.
"Kareem has done it ever since he arrived," said Brown. "The only thing that will end Kareem's career is himself. At crunch time, he always does it. His biggest legacy to the game is that he's always there."
Abdul-Jabbar said it may be that Ewing will assume the same kind of position later on.
"He's going to be around for a long, long time," Abdul-Jabbar said.
The Lakers were to take an 8 a.m. flight to Milwaukee this morning and will play the Bucks tonight. . . . Their total of 48 points at the half and 65 points after three quarters were Laker season lows. . . . Both James Worthy (18 points) and Byron Scott (12) played 41 minutes. . . . Pat Cummings fouled out with only four points in 20 minutes. Cummings and his replacement, Ken Bannister, had a total of three rebounds in 37 minutes, which prompted New York Coach Hubie Brown to say: "Now isn't that some awful production?"