Loud Soda's Value: An FD Guest Lecture

We at FreeDarko have long been admirers of Joey's work over at Straight Bangin', so it was only right that we turn to him for the third installment in FreeDarko's Community Outreach Program. Enjoy.

Pete Maravich never won an NCAA or NBA title, and no one holds that against him.

Oscar Robertson didn’t win one in college and couldn’t win a title in the NBA until he was paired with this dude called Alcindor, and no one holds that against the Big O.

As the Karl Malones and Charles Barkleys of the world can attest, conventional basketball wisdom dictates that anything less than a championship is failure of some degree. But I’m not mad at the Pistol or Oscar. They were transcendent.

History hasn’t been as kind to Patrick Ewing, another college basketball phenomenon that didn’t win big in the L but was also never rescued by leaving an indelible mark on the professional game. He was great, but he wasn’t Oscar or Pistol great. Instead, Ewing is remembered for who he wasn’t and what he didn’t do. And while that partially owes to the aforesaid conventional wisdom, it also owes to the way that we follow college hoops.

But first, more about Ewing.

For every sensational block or sweet jumper from an NBA career that helped define an era and might still delight the most committed fans, there are the tempering and enduring images of the big man’s failure: the head hung low as he left the court while another team celebrated; that missed layup against the Pacers; that crotch-eyed-view punking administered by Scottie Pippen. Those are moments that capture the ultimate futility of Ewing’s unfulfilled quest for basketball immortality, a unique lionization earned in June when there are no teams left to beat. The Knicks were close for so many years, and yet Ewing was never able to emerge as the reason for anything other than the annual admirable attempt. The fortunes of the Knicks ran parallel to Ewing’s, a leading figure who was a perennial all-star but routinely looking up toward some other center; a valuable player who never won MVP. Always with sweat pouring down his neck, bandages tightly wrapped around his knees, and the sad rhetoric of a beaten man too proud to abandon hope, Ewing was a figure who all but demanded your sympathy and for whom a cavalcade of compassion was the melancholy reward.

That the Ewing legacy is confined to this grim basketball purgatory is not just a tragic NBA tale but more so a crushing reminder of college basketball’s bittersweet manipulation. How cruel is it that a player whom we at one time celebrated as a basketball deity was ultimately never more loved, appreciated, or worshipped than when he stood at the threshold of his professional destiny, only to later on appear diminished by doing what we wanted of him—crossing over and moving toward what we had hoped would be something greater. Really, that is among the most disheartening of basketball injustices, and it is something for which basketball fans still have no answer when following the college game. We seize upon potential, proclaim greatness, romanticize the future, and then hold a player accountable for not learning the lines to that script. All I can say is that people had better enjoy Kevin Durant while they can, because when he leaves Texas, the majesty of his anticipated triumph will be gone as well. And the reality may be hard to reconcile.

But again, about Ewing: As he burst onto the scene, established Georgetown, elevated the Big East, and assembled one of the most storied careers in recent college basketball history—remembered for the awesome power of the Georgetown swagger, the cultural and racial implications of John Thompson’s success, the epochal nature of the Hoya triumph, and the still shocking reality of that team’s failure—Patrick Ewing was arguably the most significant college basketball figure since Bill Walton. Aided by what transpired in the NBA, we can now easily point to Michael Jordan’s ascendancy as the defining basketball trend of this modern era, but in some ways, to do so is to engage in revisionist history. Coming out of college, Michael was an All-American, but Patrick was a god.

I offer all of this so that I might stitch together this gnawing conundrum: following college basketball is, to some extent, an exercise in masochistic idealism for the devoted hoop head. While we surely conjure mythology to accompany the exploits of our favorite players in the Association, projecting our feelings onto these invented heroes, there is a unique version of this process in which we engage while keeping track of the college kids, and it sets us up for disappointment. Ewing is the object lesson that might now inform our treatment of Durant.

If you love basketball, watching the game played well is a visceral thrill. And that’s not just grandiloquence: there have been many nights when I’ve been unable to suppress the spontaneous yelps of excitement. It can happen when you see someone get crossed up; when the game appears to be unfolding in slow motion for a true talent; when a player that big makes a pass that good and sees the floor that well. I don’t need to explain this; you know. It’s among the best feelings in the world, and it spoils us. We get used to it as we see Jason Kidd orchestrate an offense or Reggie Miller wash away an opponent’s will as the threes rain down amidst a series of screens, all the while with no dribbling required. Having come to expect the extraordinary, we start looking for something better, something that can restore the initial sensation. How will someone top all of this? When will someone top all of this? Could someone please top all of this? Inevitably, we cast our glances upon the college ranks, the incubator for potential and hope.

We’re motivated by evolution theory: we’ve been conditioned to assume that once a dominant skill expresses itself, it will slowly be replicated as the recessive basketball efforts are rendered obsolete. Someone gains an advantage; the advantage spreads; those unable to adapt die out. It starts in the NBA and trickles down to college and then high school. So as NBA players redefine the possibilities of basketball performance, we begin to anticipate even newer definitions and hope that there are prep players that will demonstrate their possession of the requisite basketball genetics. We collectively believe that we can see the future in the basketball youth. That’s where we start to betray ourselves, as fans. As we seek out the next generation and hope to find a fix of the basketball elation which we crave, we invest too heavily in the attendant romance of potential and youth. Don’t forget, we judge based upon jewelry.

Look at our treatment of Durant. No one, least of all me, is denying his abilities. Nor would I assert that he’s anything but exceptional: a true big man with a knack for rebounding and perimeter skills befitting an NBA point guard prospect. Not even Kevin Garnett or Tracy McGrady, the longtime theoretical archetypes for the player I describe, were as skillful when they were 18. Durant is nearly surreal. And while that may not be hyperbole, it surely is a symptom of the problem I describe.

Were Kevin Durant to play in the NBA tonight, he would probably be an effective player. Inserted into the lineup as a guard, he’d likely shoot and rebound over his defender; inserted in the lineup as a forward, he’d be liable to take his man to the hole or disrupt the defensive scheme. (This all assumes, of course, that some coach wouldn’t ask him to play like he was supposed to given the rigid rhythms of NBA basketball.) But he would get caught on pick-and-rolls; he would get shoved around by Dwight Howard and Chris Wilcox; he would foul out trying to draw the absurd charges that college referees tolerate; and so forth. He wouldn’t know the game, and he would need time to adjust. That doesn’t sound all that surreal, does it? But then we remember that he’s just 18; that he has to fill some of the time he could be working on basketball with things like class and homework; that he is not receiving elite-level coaching (with Rick Barnes, that’s damn sure); that he has not been subjected to an NBA weight-training routine. We remember all of this and it emboldens us to keep dreaming. We dream that he’ll bulk up but remain quick; that his defensive techniques will improve; that his basketball savvy will grow. And most of all, we dream that a player with a game over which we salivate will develop the accompanying mental fortitude required to lead a team to a championship. It’s the only outcome that Durant’s skills will allow us to envision.

That a player with seemingly limitless ability would be limited to starring in such a narrow vision is not a paradox for basketball fans. As noted above, we’ve been encouraged to assume that the prevailing order of the basketball universe will see the NBA game changed by standout talents. Russell, Wilt, Bird, Magic, Michael. Even better, we expect that these transformative figures will have shown themselves to be candidates for the preferred destiny while still in college, something we saw from the preceding five and players like Robertson and Maravich. We assume that the line will go on, and we expect that as pros, some of the most promising prep stars will transform the game and take us along with them as the ride out into the Elysian plain of basketball immortality. This is just how we think as basketball fans, and like addicts, we can’t escape the grasp of this pleasure. That, as humans, we can build in themes of purity (think: a basketball savior) and redemption (think: the exceptional man leads a downtrodden team to greatness) while projecting our morals onto these figures makes the thrill of college basketball unique and all the more ensnaring. After all, there is something far less attractive about myth-making when the canvas isn’t blank.

This quest is destructive, though. It leaves in its wake realities that could never match the fantasies, legacies that are unfairly judged within the common basketball value system, and junkies who don’t know how to help themselves. To succeed when playing with these rules requires one to average a triple double for an entire year or die a cult figure worthy of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame as its youngest member. To succeed when perpetuating this is even harder, because fans are usually wrong. And as we have sadly learned from Patrick Ewing, one-time Lord and all-time disappointment, even those who display the greatest of potentials and embody the highest of a basketball fan’s hopes sometimes must settle for no rings and something less than transcendence.

Is Kevin Durant ready for all of that? Should he have to be?


At 2/23/2007 2:06 PM, Anonymous lightninghank said...

Very, very, very nice piece. Great work Joey.

At 2/23/2007 2:31 PM, Blogger Gladhands said...

Thank you. I have long contended that Ewing is the 80s/90s player who suffers the most from revisionist history. He was the cornerstone of a perennial late-round threat. To this day, I maintain that Ewing's Knicks squads were the only team that the championship Bulls actually feared.

At 2/23/2007 2:42 PM, Blogger Joey said...

I don't know if the Bulls feared those Knicks, but I do know that the Bulls could be beaten by those Knicks. Not always, of course. But in 1996, when PJ Brown destroyed a Knicks title by flipping Charlie Ward into the crowd and initiating that ridiculous brawl that crippled the Brickers, the Knicks were going to take out Chicago. The teams had split in the regular season, each winning on the other team's court once, and while Chicago may not have feared New York, New York didn't fear Chicago. Not that year. I think that it remains one of the seminal moments of my life, watching that horror unfold.

At 2/23/2007 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article.

That New York team won by brutality and therefor they lost by brutality. Ewing was great like Zach Randolph is great. Basically a good player, but great? Not so much. That New York team was a very complete team. Ewing was just the big name in a big city.
Over-hyped and now Over-done.


At 2/23/2007 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Allow me to throw out a question that has thrown out before. Who was the best player Patrick Ewing ever played with? Charles Oakley? John Starks? Allan Houston (by that time Ewing was already in decline) That shit is laughable. Don't tell me those knick teams were complete because they were far from it. There was always one go to guy. Always. Bernard King's knee injury was the single greatest tragedy to happen to the New York Sports world. Pencil the Knicks in for three championships if he stays healthy. I can buy Ewing being an excellent but not great player up to a point. To put Ewing in the same class with Zach Randolph is an insult to basketball intelligence.

He deserved better.

At 2/23/2007 3:39 PM, Blogger Trey said...

Jordan, and by extension the Bulls, feared no one. Especially Patrick Ewing.

Regardless of their regular season split, I'm positive that the Bulls would have beaten the Knick in '96 if there were no suspensions. Jordan has/had a killer instinct that Ewing never did.

At 2/23/2007 3:42 PM, Blogger max o said...

I feel like I need to preface this post with the disclaimer that I'm a devoted Indiana Pacers fan.

To compare Ewing to Z-Bo is unfair to Ewing. If we look his performance this season, and this season alone, Z-Bo's offensive skills might edge Ewing's a little bit. He, however, is not the leader that Ewing was, nor is he the defensive player (Z-Bo being one of the worst defenders this side of Travis Knight and up until he reformed himself this season a starring member of the cast of the Jail-Blazers), nor is he the anchor of a team.

Ewing, to me, played the kind of basketball I imagine Willis Reed playing when I read a book like "The City Game." He was that guy, Bill Simmons Ewing theory be damned, that willed the Knicks to victory when they were over matched or being outplayed. He was unquestionably the best player on that team. As complete as they were, they never had a great point guard and were starting a former CBA Player at shooting guard. In terms of actual talent, Starks was the basketball equivalent of a Jim Leyritz without the clutch home runs (2-18?). As New Yorkers remember him, you might hear him in the same conversation as a Clyde Drexler or a Chris Mullin--players who were legitimately great.

Those Knicks teams, forever and always, rested on Ewing's shoulders. They won and lost with him. When they didn't win, in the case of the pacers layup, or any of the other heartbreaks, HE was the one who tried to deliver them that victory and fell tragically short.

Joey, amazing piece, but like the Z-Bo comparison, I don't think the Durant comparison is fair either. Ewing wasn't the paradigm breaker that Durant *could* be. People had seen great college centers move to the pros with various degrees of success. We'd seen what the player Ewing was supposed to be was capable of: Russell, Wilt, Kareem, Walton, Malone (Moses), and even in then-hindsight Hakeem. Willis Reed can go in here, really any center who dominated the league for any period of time can. Shaq, Zo, Mutombo, Robinson all came later.

Coming out of college, Ewing had a different burden than Durant will have. People expected dominance out of Ewing, he was a big man, he it all and then he didn't deliver in the pros and it wasn't for a lack of trying. Kevin Durant isn't going to win it all this year unless he undergoes some sort of tournament apotheosis, another difference between the two. Ewing had the attitude of a fierce competitor at both ends of the floor from his four years in college, Durant has shown it on one end with regularity. John Thompson, responsible for turning out some of the best big men ever, and AI (another fierce fierce competitor), was Ewing's coach--taught him how to play and more importantly how to Win. As you said, Rick Barnes is Durant's, with all the implications that come with that.

I think a better parallel to what Durant is facing, and what his potential is--the ability to not only play the game but to change the way the game is played, was AI when he was in college. He was a six foot nothing shooting guard who could light it up like no other. People didn't know how he'd fit in the league even though everyone knew he deserved to be there, similar to Durant.

The player, to me, most analogous to Ewing, at least at this point in his career, is Greg Oden. It seems too obvious, and it's not only because they're both big men. Like Ewing was for the Knicks, Oden is going to be hailed as a savior by whatever franchise manages to get him. This too is obvious. He's going to have the same "center pressure" to be a dominating force at both ends of the court that Ewing had. And only time will tell if his legacy will end differently than Ewing's.

At 2/23/2007 3:50 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

I don't think Ewing suffers from revisionist history; he is what he is. He's a great player, top-50 all-time, but he didn't beat the great players of his time, namely Jordan and Hakeem. Not his fault; he had little help (though Hakeem didn't really have much more, either). He didn't (re)define his position, though, nor was he a once-in-a-lifetime talent, like the Big O or Barkley. He was a great center, but his contempary Hakeem was better. What's to argue about his legacy?

The real problem is that too often we define individual players in team sports by how their team performs; the reality is that sometimes a great player shouldn't just be defined by whether he won or lost the big game: Dan Marino is still the most talented QB ever; Ernie Banks was the most powerful hitting SS ever; Ewing was a great center who always fought hard, and whose teams were great teams even without that elusive title.

He was also dunked on way too often by shorter players.

At 2/23/2007 3:53 PM, Anonymous Charles said...

I think MJ and Hakeem are as much to blame for Ewing's disappointments as Ewing himself. He was great, but they were unquestionably better. Those Knick teams were by no means among the greats of all-time. But I often wonder if had it not been for all the MJ hoopla back then if the Knicks just might have broken through one of those years.

p.s. That zach randolph guy is a disgrace.

At 2/23/2007 4:01 PM, Anonymous hoopinion said...

My first basketball-watching memories are of 1) a Ewing/Sampson, Georgetown/UVA matchup where Sampson went down with an injury and my parents taught me that I wasn't supposed to cheer when they guy I was rooting against got hurt and 2) the Georgetown/UNC National Championship game wherein, while they were occurring, Ewing's five (5!) first half goaltending violations were every bit as amazing as that game's final play.

At 2/23/2007 4:05 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

To respond to a few comments:
-Comparing Ewing to Randolph is unworthy of a response.
-I second the Oden/Ewing comparision... in fact, it is dead on. The only difference is imagine if Oden was in school for four years, and what his rep going into the NBA would be like; that's the amount of pressure Ewing faced. He lived up to it, too.
-I second anon that said Ewing had no talent; I watched those teams every year, and they were supremely untalented. Yet they were legit contenders every season. That's how dominant Ewing was. Jordan may be greater than Ewing, but you know what... If I was starting a franchise, I would take Ewing (or better yet Hakeem). Go ahead and laugh at me.

At 2/23/2007 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darkofan: What is the Freedarko policy position on the age limit rule ? Isn't at least ambivalent, or at best, tacit acceptance, after long deliberation , due to the paternalistic aspects of the rule, and isn't the underlying theme of the article on Ewing the unfairness of the pressure that too rapidly advances players still not mature ( in every sense of the word). While this comment is not an endorsement of the age limit rule, the article is a very eloquent , understated, exemplification of its merits.

At 2/23/2007 4:07 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

*Clarification: That those teams had no other talent (besides Ewing).

At 2/23/2007 4:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Word is bond. I readily concede that Ewing was not as good as Hakeem or Michael, but I would lay as much of the blame on the Knicks dearth of championships on the Knicks front office as I would on Patrick. The myriad stiffs, losers and past their prime stars was overwhelming. Go to basketball reference.com and take a look at Ewing's teammates.

Doc Rivers (done)
Rolando Blackman (done)
Mo Cheeks (ditto)
Derek Harper (ditto, though he had a little juice)
The artist formerly known as Xavier McDaniel
Charles Smith (can we verify that this man did not actually have a vagina?)
Larry Johsnon (done. What a prototypical Knicks signing).

and these are just some highlights.

I'm not providing excuses, I'm just stating fact. Hakeem was able to win a title with a shitty supporting cast because he was a better player. But not by that much. Starks goes 6-18 in Game 7 and Joey's lovely piece is never written.

I'm convinced the Knicks are my karmic justice for rooting for the yankees

At 2/23/2007 4:19 PM, Blogger max o said...

Absolutely none. Ewing had absolutely no talent. And say what you want about Hakeem that championship year, he had some backup. They were little known players then, but over their careers they've turned into two of the clutchest shooters of our generation. Clutch enough that they both had really good nicknames. Big Shot Rob. Sam I Am. Hakeem had backup, young as it was.

At 2/23/2007 4:20 PM, Blogger max o said...

talent around him** argh.

At 2/23/2007 4:26 PM, Blogger Joey said...

Max--thanks for the thoughtful response. Agree that it's unfair to Patrick to compare him to Zach Randolph. They're not only different in style, but in competency. As noted, Ewing was a leader (to some extent) and was a great defender when he could move. (His key weakness in his prime being that he went for any and every head fake. Just ask Robert Parish and Hakeem.)

I also get your distinction about Durant and Ewing. Oden is, in fact, the more apt parallel when assessing not just hype but position, skill set, etc.

stomp--agree about the need to sometimes step back and not only use team success to assess the merits of an individual.

At 2/23/2007 4:47 PM, Blogger Gladhands said...

I'm not sure Hakeem was that much better than Ewing. Not only did The Dream have a better supporting cast than Ewing did, bet you all seem to be overlooking the fact that he never had to faxe Jordan's Bulls. His teams did not winn by the sheer force of his will, as Ewing's did. I seem to recall quite a few early-round playoff exits in in Houston, before Hakeem got the right supporting cast.

At 2/23/2007 4:56 PM, Blogger R.G. said...

Fantastic piece. Of course would all this talk about Ewing be moot if Starks hadn't gone 2-18 during game 7? Probably not because they would have won the title in a Jordanless league.

At 2/23/2007 5:18 PM, Blogger Aaron said...

Great description of Ewing's game. But Ewing was a statement of conventionality. He was the epitome of the True Center, in an era where True Centers dominated the game.

Durant is an entirely different force. He's part of FD's Positional Revolution. He's all about anti-conventionality. You admit as much when you struggle to call him a guard or a forward. So while descriptionally I think you've got both Ewing and Durant down beautifully, your conflation misses the point of both players entirely.

At 2/23/2007 5:33 PM, Anonymous Alando said...

The writer obviously loves hoops the way Mailer loves boxing, but the writer is a better essayist as he has more compassion for his subjects than Mailer. That being said, Ewing, together with John Thompson, always were dignified, and refused to shuffle. They made the Big East -- Georgetown's games with SJU were classic. Hence, Ewing's pro career was, in a sense, anti-climactic, as his legacy had already been engraved in his college foundation. In the pros, he was basically a jump shooter -- he had small hands, didn't instinctively pass out of the post, and went airborne in response to even mediocre head fakes. He was regularly slayed by Robert Parish. He wasn't a natural, and wasn't really a top 50. What was he? A hard worker who always came to play who steadily improved as a player and as a man. Actually, he's a good role model.

At 2/23/2007 6:51 PM, Anonymous paper tiger said...

great piece joey, thanks for it.
those of y'all cats debating ewing v. hakeem and ewing v. durant seem to be missing the crux. ewing was a fantastic pro, but due to his collegiate transcendence we think of him with sympathy if he's lucky, and apparently randolph comparisons if he's not. the hype around durant reads like a self fulfilling prophecy of disappointment, but we do it anyway.
reminds me of a review i read awhile back for tv on the radio, which basically said that, legacy wise, they would've been better off calling it quits after the young liars EP. the idea was something like "they showed unlimited potential, and at that point the best songs they'll ever write are in the future. should they go on to actually write them, they will inevitably disappoint." cookie mountain raves aside, i think it's a sound point.
the problem with limitless potential is that one cannot embody it. limitless potential always distills to a reality of limits, circumstance, etc. this is why len bias is a legend and shawn kemp is shawn kemp.

At 2/23/2007 7:08 PM, Anonymous ewing lover said...


the ultimate sadness

At 2/23/2007 7:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, Hakeem was better than Ewing, but Robinson was better than Ewing, too. Then Shaq came into the league, and he was about as good as Ewing right away, and then he got better. So for most of his career, Ewing was the 3rd or 4th-best guy at his position. That's why his legacy ain't so great. If he played today, he'd be the best center in the league (at least until Yao plays a full season), and his greatness would be more appreciated.

At 2/23/2007 7:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Same anon as above)
In fact, Ewing might be similar to Garnett in that respect. Right now, we've got 3 of the top 10 power forwards of all time playing: Duncan, Dirk and KG. Since Duncan has 3 titles and I'll assume Dirk will win at least one, we might look back in 20 years and think, "damn, KG sure gets overlooked because he had crappy teammates."

At 2/23/2007 11:23 PM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

"remembered for the awesome power of the Georgetown swagger, the cultural and racial implications of John Thompson’s success, the epochal nature of the Hoya triumph, and the still shocking reality of that team’s failure..."

That statement is the reason for the perceptions. Being fortunate enough to be a 9-10-year old in D.C. at the time of the Hoyas with parents who were a part of the black Chocolate City athletic society, I know the media's treatment of Pat and the Hoyas. I saw Big East crowds hold up pictures of monkeys and apes with "Patrick Ewing" written underneath. I remember Bill Raftery calling the Hoya teams thugs and holding JT responsible for their near-criminal behavior on the basketball court. I also remember the national media's abject hatred of Georgetown's team. They vilified Thompson when the Hoyas lost to UNC and Nova, when the Heels had what four future NBA players on their team. When referees allowed Nova to play clutch-and-grab defense for 40 minutes, while touch fouls rendered Georgetown's key players useless for long stretches - which made no-coaching Rollie Massimino into a folk hero. when Georgetown scorched their opposition to win an NCAA title, well, they were supposed to win - and yet Michael Graham, the difference-maker of those three Final Four teams was said to be too dumb to be properly enrolled in Georgetown University.

When Pat came to the Knicks, it was much the same throughout his career. No matter what Ewing did he was seen by the NY media and therefore the faux-savvy NY hoops fans as sullen and too introverted to be a leader. Then the NY press in their usual kill-job, attributed the failures of the Hoyas, and by osmosis the Knicks, to Ewing while oddly acting as liberals and celebrating Thompson as a great collegiate head coach (the only reason for this was that the ugly truth of some "Nigger" calling and monkey sounds that hurt Pat most happened when he played at the Square. He intimated that if it weren't for Thompson, he would have either transferred from G-town or quit altogether).

For those reasons, this statement, "Ewing was a figure who all but demanded your sympathy and for whom a cavalcade of compassion was the melancholy reward," is the only positive that could and is allowed be attributed to a great player like Ewing; a player, like so many great others who toil without another great player around them, without the legacy of a ring.

That, my friends is the real and ugly truth behind the myth of Patrick Ewing being seen as a failure. The rest is but bullshit.

And do remember that "The Big O" did win a championship, though it was late in his career with Kareem. And do remember that though he was, in wins and losses a prolific loser, Pete Maravich was a white dude who played "black." Hope (especially great white hope) springs eternal.

No one remembers Jerry West, "The Logo" as anything but one of the greatest players of all time, when in actuality he was little more than a one-handed player with reliable jump shot, but he too was legendary coming out of college, y'know? And exactly how many rings did The Logo win and with whom? Ummhmm.

At 2/24/2007 2:04 AM, Blogger max said...

To call Jerry West's jumpshot "reliable" is to give it a major slight. He was a lock down defender, one of the most clutch players in history, had a competitive streak on Jordan's level and one of the best basketball minds ever.

West only had one ring, but he got to the finals nine times, and was the first player to be named MVP of the NBA finals from the losing team. It seems like you're saying people overrate West because he's white. I think that's untrue.

At 2/24/2007 3:18 AM, Blogger T. said...

first, nice work joey. well written - although I, like many others above - am not quite sure about the parallels betwixt Ewing and Durant.

However, since that conversation has been hashed out . . .It leaves in its wake realities that could never match the fantasies,

*Sigh*. Billy Owens' legacy in the lig may be the worst reality to miss the fantasy ever. (And don't get me started on Harold Minor)

At 2/24/2007 3:51 AM, Blogger Joshua said...

The best team Ewing ever had around him was in 1998 (Houston, Sprewell, and Marcus Camby). Unfortunately, that was also the year he tore his wrist to pieces in the middle of the season. If he'd been healthy and the team had a chance to come together, they might have taken that title from the Spurs.

Then again, if Pat Riley could have benched Starks or convinced him to stop jacking up so many ridiculous shots in game 7...

If, if, if...

At 2/24/2007 7:34 AM, Anonymous ronald james davis said...

i will not accept any zach randolph hatred.

At 2/24/2007 11:59 AM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

max - and all

I am saying exactly that about West... I'm also saying Pat's lack of a ring in teh NBA was due more to the paucity of talent around him than his own play.... I'm also saying that media perception plays more than its fair share in the overall perception of Ewing, as it does all athletes, as it does in making NCAA legends and NBA legends.

To say that West should be "The Logo" when he played at the same years as Oscar Robertson is just ------- messed up.

Big O finished his career with a higher shooting percentage than West (48.1% to 47.5%), while playing two positions. Not only did O average a trip-doub in his second year as a pro, but had five consecutive years of nine-plus boards, nine-plus assist years. O's career averages were: 25.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 9.5 apg. West's were: 27.0, 5.8, 6.7. "O" revolutionized and advanced the game - the same can't be said for West.

If Oscar was The Logo, what would it look like?....

Now, peeps seem to forget that Pat had bad knees in college (tendinitis), let alone as a pro, which limited his leaping ability. By the time Pat was 26, when most players are coming into their physical primes, Ewing's leaping ability was severely hampered by his knees. But to say he had no killer instinct is not to know Ewing.... as I assess and reassess, perhaps the tragic hero isn't such a poor perception of Ewing, after all....

Comparing Oden or Durant only works as far as media perception is concerned and some of that is because neither Durant nor Oden will toil in the NCAA for four years.....

Back to Robertson & West....

Joey's point - that I reiterated - about Robertson winning only when Kareem (Lew) was around and still being seen as great - same with West and Wilt - has as much to do with the era in which they played as anything else..... Again, that West is somehow more of a legend than Robertson is crazy to me. I've had the opportunity to talk with a few old ex-NBA players, four to be exact, and when I mentioned Oscar, they all shook their heads and had that "he was a motherfucker" look. When I asked them about West, they got to explainin' and talkin' the , "Now, not to say he wasn't great, but...." talk. Now admittedly, the four ex-players I talked with were black, but damn.... the ONLY white dudes they had real respect for were Havlichek, Cowens and young Bill Walton. And Walton, they all said, was the baddest, meanest, scariest -as in, he was so good, it was scary - white baller they knew....

At 2/24/2007 1:41 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i am not old enough to have seen west or the big o play, but my perception is that robertson is held in higher esteem by most hoops heads. big o is seen as a legit GOAT candidate, magic before magic, lebron before lebron, the best player of his generation, etc.

at the time they played, he was probably overshadowed by west in the mainstream media, because of the more overt racism during that period, but my understanding is that today, very few people would say jerry west was the superior player. but, looking at those numbers you posted, it's not like west was a scrub. again, i'm not speaking with firsthand knowledge, but i see it as a lebron/d-wade type of scenario. lebron is more of all-around player, more revolutionary (just talking about his game), more transcendant, but d-wade is a great player in his own right.

obviously, the racial dynamic with robertson/west is way different, but i don't think it's necessary to trash west to praise robertson.

At 2/24/2007 2:11 PM, Blogger max said...

I'm not saying West is better than Big O either. He's not at all. I think they were both great for different reasons.

I think what it comes down to for me is that, yeah, West being white probably had a large part in the fact that he was "The Logo." But there are a ton of other reasons, too. The thing that had just as much to do with it that's being overlooked is that West, with Elgin Baylor, basically were responsible for Professional Basketball being popular in LA and by extension opening up the west coast.

To me, what it comes down to is that White or not, he was a good enough player, not only in numbers but in clutch heroics and his impact on the game itself, that he deserves to be "The Logo" as much as anyone.

I think another thing is that people remember the "tragic" hero, and West definitely personified that, losing to Bill Russell's Celtics teams for nearly a decade even while he did everything in his power to win. I mean, when people talk about Jerry West they talk about "The Shot." They lost that game, and that series to the 70 Knicks.

People remember great stories and events as much as numbers, and West provided the stories.

At 2/24/2007 6:10 PM, Blogger zip zip said...

Patrick Ewing is one of the ten best centers to ever play the game of professional basketball, period.

As a lifelong Knick fan I saw "the big fella" sweat tidal waves of sheer, impassioned perspiration on the MSG floor in the pursuit of a championship.

Patrick Ewing has nothing to be ashamed with his career.

At 2/24/2007 11:57 PM, Blogger T. said...

Patrick Ewing is one of the ten best centers to ever play the game of professional basketball, period.

That's pretty definitive, but I'm not convinced that he's an all-time great. For example - he's not in the following list of players:

1. Wilt
2. Russell
3. Kareem
4. Hakeem
5. O'Neal

I saw Ewing play a lot, but he's not someone I'll tell my kids about.

But if you remember him at Georgetown, sweating through those t-shirts and destroying the Big East - I certainly would have thought he would easily make the pantheon of centers. As it is, he joins a pool of very good Hall of Famers (Robinson, Lanier, Parish, Moses Malone, Mikan)

At 2/25/2007 2:36 AM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

I'm not trashing West - he was what he was. If overt racism played a part in making West greater than he was, then "The shot" is overblown as well - I mean, damn the Lakers ultimately lost the game! And if overt racism made West greater then he was (and I would add the necessity to make the NBA relevant to a general west coast audience), then of course Elgin would be a part of the lore, while O, who played in Cincinnati and Milwaukee would be overlooked.

But for two players who played at exactly the same time, Oscar was definitely the much, much better player - so why is West "The Logo" instead of the better player of the same period, Robertson; or Russ or Wilt? It's a legitimate question....

....as for centers, what about Nate Thurmond, who was said to be, outside of Wilt, perhaps the 2nd-best center - ever. And I'll reiterate, from what old heads say Bill Walton was a monster, just not a long-lived monster. And with Moses we have to remember that he came straight outta high school and was, as centers go, LeBron-like with his teenaged "man" body and ability to dominate at a young age.

At 2/25/2007 10:11 AM, Anonymous Jesse said...

I've yet to hear anyone with even the slightest bit of knowledge claim that West was better than O. Best-ever lists (one websites, call-in radio around HOF time), for better or worse, generally have a top 6 of Wilt, Russell, O, Magic, Bird, MJ.

Mainly, you seem to be saying that people think that he's the best because the NBA made him the logo. But the NBA won't even admit that he is the logo. (Some guy in the NBA office claimed it was an "urban myth.") So it's not like they're celebrating him or anything. And the guy who designed the logo says it is West, but that he just clipped a picture from a sports magazine.

Link to archive of article

To sum up, Oscar was better than West, almost everyone who knows anything knows that; West is in the logo, but that doesn't mean that the NBA officially thinks that he's the best player ever.

At 2/25/2007 10:37 AM, Blogger PeteJayhawk said...

All I can say is that people had better enjoy Kevin Durant while they can, because when he leaves Texas, the majesty of his anticipated triumph will be gone as well. And the reality may be hard to reconcile

Nick Collison weeps while nodding in agreement with this statement.

At 2/25/2007 2:34 PM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

It's equally an urban myth that the NBA doesn't know the logo is West. Hell, with a predominantly black league, if I were the commish I wouldn't want to acknowledge that a white dude was the logo of my league, either!

Dude who created the logo said it's West and said the NBA knew it, so what's the beef? The NBA could have said, "No, not cool," but they didn't.

West, in the eyes of the general sports media - the image-makers on which beliefs are too often based - stands for every subtle dig at black athletes of his day: hard-working, cerebral, intelligent, and strong-willed enough to overcome his physical limitations.

Finally, my point was and is, if you go back and read my initial comment and keep my evaluation of West in context, that West is seen as one of the greatest players of all time, when in fact, he was little more than a prolific scorer. Since we have a direct peer to West in Robertson, we can see the difference in the two players.

And even then neither won a ring until they played with dominant centers. And my view that it takes a dominant big man to win rings is known. Outside of the MJ years this phenomenon plays itself out through NBA history.

At 2/25/2007 4:32 PM, Anonymous Jesse said...

Yeah, I know they know it's West. My point was that they're not using it to celebrate him. The truth is likely worse: that they're likely using it to celebrate whiteness (either because the posture somehow looks "white" or they figure it'll remind people of West). But that's in no way a claim that West was better than Robertson.

All I'm saying is that I've yet to hear anyone claim that West was better than Oscar (though I'm sure there are plenty of Lakers fans and racists who would). So, agreeing with BRE above, I'm not quite sure why you need to attack West's game. But, change the logo, sure.

At 2/25/2007 6:16 PM, Anonymous orf1 said...

I discussed West over Robertson by a hair. Where is the entry?

At 2/25/2007 7:12 PM, Blogger T. said...

that West is seen as one of the greatest players of all time, when in fact, he was little more than a prolific scorer.

Whoa whoa whoa. Saying West is not as good as the Big O is one thing - but this is historic revisionism that goes too far in the other direction. Little more than a prolific scorer?

He was top 10 in assists every year he played, #2 on the steals per game career list, top 5 from his 2nd season onwards in PER. West was clearly the 2nd best guard in the NBA behind Robertson for nearly a decade. Much more than "just a scorer"

And if the stats don't convince you - Jordan was once asked who he'd want to play against from the past - and he said "West because he plays the game the way I think I play the game."

At 2/25/2007 8:11 PM, Anonymous drboppertho said...

"the NY media and therefore the faux-savvy NY hoops fans"

The whole story in a nutshel D-Wil.

At 2/26/2007 4:07 AM, Anonymous D-Wil said...

Steals stats weren't kept until 1974, West's final season. Any attempt to cobble together his steals is fiction....

As far as top 10 in apg - so? Steph Marbury can make the same claims and be telling the truth....

And that quote just show how calculating MJ truly was....

As we know - I hope - "stats" are never the whole story of a player's worth. And with the backdrop of the state of the nation's society during West's career, it makes more sense to me that his legacy is overstated than it does that he was the great and near-mythical player image-makers tell us he was....

At 2/26/2007 10:43 AM, Anonymous Jackal said...

maybe i'm being dumb...but whats the difference between Kevin Durant and Rudy Gay

At 2/26/2007 11:38 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

rudy gay can only dream about having durant's handle, jumpshot, passing ability, and shit, even his post game. gay is a nice player, but durant is his superior in almost every way. and that's just talking about skills. durant has also shown more mental toughness and desire than gay did in his entire collegiate career.

At 2/26/2007 11:49 AM, Blogger T. said...

D-Wil - I'm sorry, but your attempts to dismantle West's legend sound awfully close to Thomas/Rodman re: Larry Bird . . . "If he was black, he'd be just another good player"

If stats and player testimony don't convince you, then I'll put it on you - who was better then West from 65-74, aside from the Big O? I know he was much more than just "a prolific scorer" - he was the first combo guard in the league, but he also was an All-First Team NBA point guard.

At 2/27/2007 8:24 AM, Anonymous Trev said...

I'll grant that Gay is no where near Durant, but what about Marvin Williams? The DraftExpress.com comparison is ludicrous: "Best Case: No Valid Comparison Was Found".

If Marvin Williams had played for Texas in 2005, where he was the only star on the team, instead of buried on the bench behind veterans on a tourney run, who is to say that he wouldn't have been Kevin Durant?

Part of it is the nature of the draft...and expectations. You hype the next big thing, and when they stumble in the NBA, you move on to the next "transcendental talent".


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