Where would the Nix be without him? Well, they're nowhere with him.
At least Ewing is getting well paid for his agony. DeBusschere claims that most of his time and energy over the summer were spent in the negotiations that turned Ewing into one of the richest athletes in pro sports, but those long hours will hardly go down as management's finest. Ewing has a 10-year contract valued at $31.2 million; six years and $17 million are guaranteed. But he could make as much as $22 million in six years under certain conditions, such as a career-ending injury. In addition, Gulf & Western, the $4.1 billion conglomerate that owns the Knicks, gave Ewing a $5 million interest-free loan. The way the rest of the NBA saw it, the Nix got their pockets picked on the Ewing deal, and then got taken again on the Cartwright deal.
For his part, DeBusschere contends that Ewing "held the cards." DeBusschere felt that Ewing's representatives were prepared to keep him out if they didn't get what they wanted, and DeBusschere could only imagine the horrific spectacle of 11,000 season-ticket holders, having watched Ken Bannister in the pivot instead of Ewing, storming his office at Four Pennsylvania Plaza. In light of the Ewing contract, what is Bernard King worth if he comes back healthy? And couldn't an extra million or so have been found and given to a sharp-shooting guard and a Louis Orr? DeBusschere must make a trade. It was a pivotal moment in Knick history when DeBusschere the player came from Detroit to New York in exchange for Walt Bellamy and Howard Komives in December of 1968. One season later the Knicks won the NBA title. But being a good deal and making one are two different things.
At present, the Nix and a legitimate NBA franchise are two different things. But they have been good for a few laughs.
New York is starting two rookies in the frontcourt—Bob Thornton, who last year played for Caja of Madrid in the Spanish National League, and Gerald Wilkins, who will be a good pro someday but as an off guard, not as a forward. Then there is Bannister, (the Animal) whose rebounding and defense have often been likened to that of a kitten. The Animal is threatening the unofficial record for air balls on short jump shots—he had four in a 97-94 loss to the Bulls on Saturday night. During a 92-88 loss to the Bucks two nights earlier, the Animal, a career 47% foul shooter, banked in a free throw, then vigorously nodded his head to indicate that—yes—it was all planned. Over on the bench, even coach Hubie Brown, who doesn't show a lot of teeth in the best of times, had to smile.
The continued absence of Orr caused some confusion at the Garden during the Chicago game when a few fans shouted "We want Louis!" It was unclear whether they meant Orr or Emmanuel Lewis, the 42-inch television superstar who had tossed up an honorary jump ball before the game. Ewing and his college coach, John Thompson, did cameos on Webster a while back. As for Lewis, the Nix need some quick guards.
On Nov. 3 in Portland, the Trail Blazers got a chuckle or two during their 110-96 victory when the Knicks played a stretch with an alltime all-bad lineup of Bannister at center, Thornton and aging Ernie Grunfeld at forward, and non-penetrating, slumping Tucker (37% from the floor, only five free throw attempts in eight games) and fourth-round draft pick Fred Cofield at guard. Ghosts of bad teams past positively whooshed through Memorial Coliseum, teams like the 9-73 Philadelphia 76ers of 1972-73, possibly the worst team in NBA history. Certainly the Nix aren't that bad.
Or are they?
They just might be if the backcourt continues its poor play at crunch time. Against the Bucks, Sparrow missed two consecutive wide-open jumpers late in the game (one of them was an air ball, henceforth to be known as a Bannister). Against the Bulls, the Knicks led 83-77 with 8:15 remaining but failed to run any semblance of an offense down the stretch, leaving it to Wilkins (who, like his talented brother, Atlanta's Dominique, does not have to be urged to shoot) to free-lance. Understandably, in tight situations the guards look for Bernard. But he's in New Jersey.
Somehow, the Knicks have hung together throughout these depressing days. This is a team that hustles from first buzzer to last.