SI Vault
Ralph Wiley
January 07, 1985
After years of relying on others to unlock doors for him, Georgetown's center Patrick Ewing will soon go off on his own
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January 07, 1985

The Master Of The Key

After years of relying on others to unlock doors for him, Georgetown's center Patrick Ewing will soon go off on his own

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Patrick Ewing stirred in his bed at 22 Pleasant St. in Cambridge, Mass. The bed was too small, but that's something a 7-footer with an 8-foot wingspan learns to live with. Ewing had slept like a rock and awoke refreshed. The sun was rising in a cloudless sky, warming the house and promising a fine Indian summer day. This, apparently, was no dream. Today—Friday, Oct. 12, 1984—a perfect day for anything, would be Patrick Ewing Day in Cambridge.

Shortly before noon Ewing left his mother's house along with Helen Ford, an employee at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, in a chauffeured Oldsmobile Ninety-eight. Soon thereafter they arrived at the back of Cambridge City Hall. Without a wasted motion, he opened a rear door to assist Ford from the car. She had proposed this Ewing Day to the city government and was delighted to serve as Ewing's self-appointed surrogate mother. Patrick's mother, Dorothy, had died of a massive heart attack in the house on Pleasant Street 13 months earlier.

As Ewing walked into the City Hall atrium, cheerleaders massed and bubbled, their ponytails bobbing barely above his waist. They escorted him to a wide staircase where he was joined by City Councilor Walter Sullivan, who stood two Steps higher than Ewing and put his arm up on Ewing's shoulder for a picture. The smiling Ewing was still the taller man. More city workers, officials and well-wishers offered congratulations, while Ewing, dressed like a diplomat, bent to be closer to them and to offer pleasantries in a singsong baritone that seemed to come from the ceiling. "Nice to see you, too." "Thank you very much." "How are you these days?" He was not ill at ease. Not yet.

Inside the offices of Mayor Leonard J. Russell, State Senator George Bachrach offered a handshake and a word of advice. "You need a bodyguard," said Bachrach. Ewing let out a short breath—like a laugh, but noncommittal. He'd traveled to Cambridge the previous evening from Georgetown's campus in Washington, D.C. Ford and Patrick's father, Carl, were mildly surprised that Patrick's only traveling companion on the flight from Washington was a coed from Howard University named Rita Williams. "We met on the Hill, the summer before last," Williams said. She had worked for Senator Bill Bradley while Ewing was an intern with the Senate Finance Committee.

"C'mon over here," City Councilor Saundra Graham said to Carl, who stood off to one side. "Without the father, there is no son." Carl Ewing, 59, studied Patrick briefly and deferred as only a father who knows when the son wishes to fend for himself can. Carl lifted a heavy maple chair, moved it to a corner of the room and sat down. "It may fit better over here," he said. Patrick reached inside his jacket, fished out his Olympic gold medal and slipped it on. The party soon moved to the City Hall steps for the public ceremony.

"Whereas, the city of Cambridge has been blessed to have Patrick Ewing as its native son, with three state high school championships at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, a national championship with Georgetown and most recently the gold medal at the Twenty-third Olympiad...." Russell read the proclamation with gusto to a crowd of a few hundred people gathered on Massachusetts Avenue. The sun grew warmer. "The city is honored to be where Patrick had his basketball beginnings.... I hereby proclaim October 12, Pat Ewing Day...a great, immortal day in Cambridge.... Finally, I present to Patrick Ewing, the key to the city."

Ewing smiled beneficently throughout, but sweat formed on his forehead. Good sweat, Ewing's old ally, was in this case a nuisance. His father passed him a folded handkerchief as more representatives spoke. "A proclamation from the Massachusetts Senate...Michael LoPresti authored... Governor Michael S. Dukakis...hereby Pat Ewing Day in the Commonwealth."

Graham asked if Ewing might like to say a few words. Ewing nodded. "I'd like to thank you all for coming out and giving me your support," he said. A motorcade then carried Ewing and the official party through the city's squares before stopping on Cambridge Street, at Rindge and Latin's War Memorial gym. "We're private people," Ewing's father had said before entering the lead car. "Patrick is one of the family, but I can't always judge him, and I'm his father."

The gymnasium floor teemed with students. On the gym's stage, Ewing sat with Ford, his father, his brother Carl Jr., his sister Lastina and Williams. The pep band played The Stars and Stripes Forever. There were more testimonials. Ewing seemed to listen more intently to these because most of them came from members of an informal group that has come to be known as the Ewing Committee.

Two days later columnist David S. Broder would write in The Washington Post , "One of the continuing puzzles about [him] is the quality that his intimates see in him that makes them feel he needs to be shielded from the outside world.... It has never been clear to me just what it is that the people in this protective phalanx believe they are protecting...yet they always seem poised to intervene—as if he were going to need help." Broder was writing about President Reagan, but he might as well have been talking about Ewing, the dominant and reclusive center of the NCAA basketball champion Hoyas.

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