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A STAR'S HOMECOMING, A FAN'S REACTION.
March 2, 2001

by Bill Hogan

 

 
 

Patrick Ewing went back to Madison Square Garden Tuesday as a member of the Seattle SuperSonics. He had spent the last 15 years as the New York Knicks best player.

I solicited comments from fans about how he should be greeted by the Garden crowd. To a man and woman, the response was the same. He should be cheered for his great accomplishments and thanked for his many contributions.

 
 


He was. The crowd gave Ewing a three-minute standing ovation when his name was announced before the start of the game.

I don't think anyone was surprised. I don't think anyone expected anything different.

Fans know a star when they see one.

So why has the media insisted on overshadowing his homecoming with the continuing saga of the missing ring? Why is winning a championship such an important stamp of validation on a great career?

Here's a news flash: basketball is a team sport. So is baseball, football and hockey. One player, in a team sport, cannot win a championship. Ever.

I know what you're thinking. Michael Jordan may be the exception that proves the rule. (Although, it took Jordan seven years to win the NBA title, and I think Phil Jackson will tell you Jordan didn't do it alone).

Only in an individual sport can the number of championships won be the barometer by which an athlete's accomplishments are measured.

If Sonny Liston had beaten Cassius Clay in 1965, the world may never have heard of Muhammad Ali.

Jack Nicklaus is not a household name because he came in second in 18 major golf championships.

And, of course, Earl Anthony would wallow in obscurity if not for the numerous pro bowling trophies he has garnered.

If an athlete's legacy is based more on championships than individual accomplishments, then allow me to submit:

Dan Marino, arguably the NFL's greatest passer (notice I wrote passer, not quarterback), will never be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. No ring, no bust. Sorry Dan. (Though, that larger than life statue outside Pro Player Stadium may be all the validation any player needs).

Jim Kelley will be enshrined in the Hall someday thanks to the little known oh-fer rule that was applied when Fran Tarkenton was elected. If you get to, and lose a minimum of three Super Bowls, you're in!

John Elway should count his lucky stars that he hung around long enough to play on a team good enough to win the Super Bowl (twice). Although he, too, would have been eligible under the above mentioned oh-fer rule.

Nolan Ryan holds most of major league baseball's pitching records but went 24 years without making a World Series appearance. Wait! He started 10 games for the New York Mets in 1969. He's got a ring. He's in!

Now I'm going out on a limb here, but I would like to make a case for one of baseball's most beloved figures. Bob Uecker.

I know he played on four teams in six years.

I know his lifetime batting average is .200 and his baseball skills are held in the best light when compared to the staggering numbers put up by Choo Choo Coleman.

It's the intangibles that he brought to the game. His wit. His humor. His knack for keeping the team loose. All factors that helped the St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Yankees in the '64 World Series.

He's got a ring. Put him in the Hall of Fame, and put him in the front row.

Back to Patrick. Ewing was the NBA's number one draft pick in 1985 and instantly made the Knicks a better team.

He was the 1986 Rookie of the Year, was a perennial all-star and holds about a dozen Knick team records. 'Nuff said.

Ask the Knick management why they didn't give one of basketball's best enough help to win a championship. While you're at it, ask the Miami Dolphins the same question.

So give Ewing, and the many great athletes like him, a break. The fans at Madison Square Garden did. For three minutes.

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