30 Years After Patrick Ewing, The New York Knicks Are Tanking Towards An ’85 Draft Repeat




Knicks fans all over the globe are shouting, “Tank the season.”

It’s what Philly and Minnesota and Detroit have been doing.

The Jahlil Okafor sweepstakes is in full effect. Philly was in the lead through the early stages of the season. Their intentions were clear and short of benching any player that could help them win games, everybody in the City of Brotherly Love understands that sometimes you have to tear it down completely to build an optimistic future.


After their 102-91 Christmas Day loss to John Wall and the rising Washington Wizards, the New York Knicks have sunk to 5-26 and have the most losses in the NBA. With the season spiraling into the worst in Knicks history and the play of Carmelo Anthony producing nothing more than empty numbers, the Knicks need to continue to lose…and lose and lose.

The only fight the Knicks showed came from Quincy Acy who threw a phantom elbow in the direction of Wall’s head after Wall took exception to a hard foul, got up and pushed Acy. Wall totally initiated the quick melee, but when you are the Knicks nobody is giving you the benefit of the doubt against one of the game’s backcourt bosses.


Acy has got to get with the program and accept losing as long as he’s a member of this season’s Knicks team.

Then after they lose enough to secure a lottery spot, they need a repeat of 1985 when a NY Knicks franchise which was reeling from parting ways with Brooklyn-born franchise all-star Bernard King, struck gold by getting the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. The pick turned into Patrick Ewing a 7-foot basketball god from Georgetown University via Kingston, Jamaica and his presence made the Knicks a championship-caliber force to be reckoned with for the next decade.

He brought the magic back to the Garden. We all know that Ewing failed to win a chip. He had two shots – in 1994 against Hakeem and the Rockets and never got to play in the 1999-2000 season NBA Finals loss to the Spurs, but the era of success the Knicks achieved under Ewing’s leadership is a golden era in NY basketball.

How fitting would it be if exactly three decades later the Knicks got licked by the Leprechaun and snatched the first pick of the 2015 Draft?

If any franchise needs a No. 1 pick that is 6-foot-11, 270 pounds with an array of skills capable of turning Manhattan curbside shit into sugar real quick, it’s NY’s most embarrassing basketball squad.

Duke Blue Devils freshman Okafor (17.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg) is potentially that dude at 19-years old and is a rare commodity in today’s NBA game. He’s a true back-to-the-basket center with a deft scoring touch and he's blessed with a huge body, long arms, soft hands and incredible footwork.

There are other viable candidates in Kentucky's 6-11 talent  Karl-Anthony Towns (8.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg), and Emmanuel Mudiay, the draft’s top guard, who is playing pro ball in China this season and killing. He’s averaging close to 19 points, seven rebounds and six steals per game.

If Okafor is that Anthony Davis or Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett or that Patrick Ewing—that can’t miss skyscraper with the ability to immediately elevate his team’s win total—then the Knicks need to draft him. At this point, a Brad Daugherty in his prime would be a go.

Some scouting reports say he lacks athleticism and doesn’t affect the game on the defensive end like a center should, but neither did Ralph Sampson and last I checked he was a 2012 NBA Hall of Fame inductee. For most players, their magnificent performances are remembered far more than the suspect ones.

Fortunes can change quickly in the NBA as we’ve witnessed during Lebron James’ rein as NBA Top Shotta. His stunning and highly-criticized move to Miami and then his lauded return to Cleveland, didn’t just tip the NBA’s applecart, it flipped it over and spilled it into the streets.

As I observe this Knicks season, it’s totally clear to me that the best thing for Knicks fans is to endure 50 more games of humiliation and then pray for the ghost of former Knicks Gm Dave Debusschere to produce another miracle.


Okafor could be that miracle. It’s not like he will have to raise the Garden roof by himself. He'll get more immediate help than Ewing ever had. Ewing never played with another Hall of Famer and never had that bonafide second offensive option, whereas Melo is a future Hall of Famer with legendary scoring ability and game savvy.

Okafor doesn’t solve the Knicks defensive woes, but maybe Okafor’s development will be similar to Ewing’s but in reverse.

Ewing was the Darth Vader of defensive intimidation as the leader of John Thompson’s mythical “Hoya Destroyas” basketball program. People questioned Ewing’s offensive game entering the NBA and similar to Anthony Davis, he surprised folks with a mid-range game to complement his inside tenacity, making him a top scorer.

In any event, the possibilities are endless and what Knicks fan wouldn’t want to see Okafor’s journey play out in blue and orange?

"(Okafor has) lots of room to grow," says former Duke and NBA player Shane Battier, an ESPN analyst . "He's got a pretty good (lower) base, but he's going to get bigger in the upper body."

Mateen Cleaves, the former Michigan State point guard, was sweating Okafor too. 

"He reminds me of Tim Duncan, Elton Brand," Cleaves said. "A cross between the two."

"He has things you can't teach, things Duncan has," Cleaves gushed. "Soft hands, great court awareness, an overall calmness. Never in a hurry, always makes the right play, and he has the skill to do that."

Bagging a franchise changer is what Knicks President Phil Jackson is concerned with. Dealing with all of the media hype and the constant reminder of how miserable his team is comes with the territory.

Informed fans knew before the season commenced that this year would be tough. It has surely taken its toll on Melo who wasn’t sure he even wanted to be here in the first place but $125,000,000 long changed his mind.

Jackson inherited a mess. You don’t clean up extensive oil leaks and reverse the damage it causes to the environment in one season.

When Phil agreed to return to the city where he found glory in the 70s as a hip-living, championship player, abandon his pleasurable retirement perch and become President of Knicks basketball operations, most people thought he needed to have his 69-year-old dome checked for mental illness.

Everyone East of LA knew that it was flirting with suicide for Jackson to accept the arduous and thankless task of constructing and revamping a Knicks roster that has less talent than OJ has Juice.

Most questioned why Phil would even take the NY job after all the success he has had winning 11 titles as a coach and using his masterful Zen techniques and people skills to motivate the greatest players on the planet to be even greater.

Outside of Anthony and Tim Hardaway the Knicks roster is pretty much trash. With the exception of a 53-win season in 2012 under Mike Woodson , which now seems to be as flukish as a pitcher hitting two Grand Slams, the Knicks franchise has become known for its inability to attract top-notch talent, stack first-round draft picks, put together consecutive winning seasons and advance deep in the playoffs.

All of this banter about defense and Triangle offenses and Carmelo being selfish and the inexperience of Derek Fisher, etc…etc…is really irrelevant to the Knicks problem and Jackson’s long-term plan.

This Christmas, Knicks fans should be wishing for loss after loss after loss on into the New Year, raising the probability that the number one pick will fall into their desperate laps. NBA heads beware.

The Knicks gave their fans a Christmas present they can’t possibly be mad at. A confirmation that they are gunning for the gold in this year’s draft and attempting to erase a decade of ineptitude in one shot. Why shouldn’t they? The franchise is surely due for some luck and Wu Tang told you best, “after the laughter, I guess comes the tears.”


JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.