Ewing finished with 37 points, 17 rebounds and four assists in Game 7. It didn't matter. His season was done. "You dread the day you retire and don't have a ring," Riley had said of Ewing before the series began. "A great player will be tormented the rest of his life. I believe that. He'll always look back and say, 'Why? Why couldn't I?"
On Sunday you could see that question looming over Ewing. He will be a free agent on July 1, and the Knicks have given every indication that they will try to keep him. But who knows? The day before, he had guaranteed victory, telling members of the New York media, "See you in Chicago," and that didn't work out either. After the game he showered and put on a gray suit and then began the walk to the interview room on this day when so many bits of his past kept cropping up: Thompson in the stands, Riley and Mourning on the opposite bench and, there with them, Heat forward Ed Pinckney, who as a Villanova center went head-to-head with Ewing when the Wildcats upset Georgetown for the 1985 NCAA championship. Ewing walked down the hall, bumped into David Falk, his agent, then into former Knicks teammate Sidney Green with his 11-year-old son, Taurean. "Hey, man, you're getting big," Ewing said to the youngster.
Yes, Ewing said, when he finally sat in front of the cameras and tape recorders, he thought this was his best chance at a title, better even than the seventh game of the 1994 NBA Finals, won by the Houston Rockets 90-84. "I definitely thought so," Ewing said. "I believed in my teammates, I thought we had a great team. Chemistry was great, everything was great. We were playing extremely well, but it just didn't happen."
No, he said, he didn't feel he did anything wrong when he left the bench the night of the fracas. The NBA was wrong for issuing the suspensions. Yes, his team should have ended the series in Game 5. "We let them win it," he said. Someone asked where he'd go next, and Ewing shrugged and said, "Home. Go home and regroup. Get ready for next season."
That was it. He left the room, began walking down the hallway of Miami Arena. He didn't move too fast, not with his usual rapid gait. He looked around, trying to find Thompson. "Where's Coach at?" he asked someone with a familiar face. Gone to the airport, he was told. Ewing blinked, hesitated. He really had no place to go.