Patrick Ewing is considered one of the greatest centers to ever play the game. Having a career spanning 17 years, 16 of which he spent playing for the New York Knicks, where, despite not being able to conquer a championship, he managed to become a household name and later a Hall of Fame inductee.
Sadly, his career is not the only thing many people will remember about Ewing since he was part of probably the most controversial NBA Draft in history. The Jamaican- born center started turning heads and making headlines as a freshman in Georgetown, where he started and starred on the varsity team in the 1981-82 season leading them to the NCAA finals, where they eventually lost to the University of North Carolina.
Ewing took the Hoyas to two other NCAA finals, winning it in 1984, and becoming the target on every team owner’s mind for the 1985 draft. To have a better understanding of the controversy, it is necessary to explain the condition the league was in, prior to this draft:
1. Up to this point, the worst teams from each conference had to flip a coin for the first pick of the draft, causing many teams to go on a losing streak on purpose with the hope of getting to pick the next game-changing talent from the NCAA.
The league was not happy with this behavior from the teams so they changed the format for the 1985 draft, where all the teams that did not make the playoffs had to take part in a lottery that would determine the order in which they would pick the players.
2. The NBA was submerged in a huge scandal concerning the use of cocaine by players, with a story from the Los Angeles Times reporting that 75% of the league’s players were active drug users. The league was in need of some good publicity to wash away the negative connotation it was getting.
3. New York was the league’s biggest market, but the city’s biggest franchise was coming off its worst season in the last 20 years, so it would benefit both the NBA and the New York Knicks having a new poster child that would bring attention to the sport, and Patrick Ewing was a perfect candidate.
4. CBS had a 4-year deal with the NBA for the TV broadcasting rights of their games that was coming to an end, valued in 91.9 million dollars, a replacement was necessary for the league to thrive and hot new talent playing in one of the biggest scenarios the NBA had to offer, would surely bring a newer lucrative deal.
These seem good enough reasons for people to believe the NBA was capable of rigging the draft in order to serve its best interest, and the way the draft developed did nothing to appease the doubters.
First, the man responsible for putting the envelopes with the team’s logos in the lottery hit the Knicks envelope with part of the mechanism used to turn the ball around, denting the corners of the envelope. Then, David Stern, the league’s commissioner and the person who would benefit the most from Ewing going to the New York franchise, proceeded to grab the envelopes and was clearly very nervous about the whole affair, like maybe more than the order of the picks was at stake.
The Knicks ended up having the first pick and used it to sign Ewing. Thirty-two years have passed since that incident and people are still wondering if the draft was rigged and even though it was not up to him, it is sad to have Patrick Ewing’s career being constantly linked to the conspiracy theories.
The only certain thing is that he lived up to the expectation that surrounded him despite not winning a championship. Maybe if he had gone to any other team, people would not have had the chance to watch him develop into the star that he still is.