Jordan feels—as do most of the Knicks—that as Ewing came out of his shell as a person, he did the same as a player. "Before, I think he wouldn't exert himself to the point where he really became a dominant force," says Jordan. "I don't mean he didn't play hard, because he always played hard. But now he has made himself practically unstoppable. I used to be able to slip behind him and get his shot from behind, for example, but ii doesn't happen anymore, because Patrick will not let it happen."
Ewing has also turned himself into a much more vocal leader, partly because he feels ready for it, partly because Knick coach Pat Riley asked him to do it. Riley says every coach needs "two or three al lies, two or three guys who say yea to everything the coach says, even if, deep in side, they're thinking nay. Clearly, Patrick and Oak [Charles Oakley] are our yes guys."
Exhibit A: During the Knicks' first-round series against the Indiana Pacers both of the yea guys, but especially Ewing, jumped all over Starks after his infamous head butt of Pacer guard Reggie Miller got him tossed out of Game 3. "That surprised me when I saw it on TV," says Chicago guard Trent Tucker, a Knick teammate of Ewing's for six sea- sons and still a close friend. "Pat's instinct is to lead by example, but there comes a time when a leader has to become visible and vocal. For a lot of years in New York the team tried to get Patrick to do it, but I think it's only lately that he's accepted it."
Ewing expresses disinterest in the notion that he has ever been anything but the Knicks' leader and doesn't want to hear about how his leadership style has changed over the years. Ask him to analyze the past or himself or his real estate partner Jordan or the weather conditions outside Madison Square Garden, for that matter, and you might as well ask him to break dance in midtown traffic. He is still wary of intrusions on his time, yet he doggedly, if colorlessly, gives his time to reporters after games, and as far as he's concerned, that's touching all the bases. One might logically conclude that Ewing's reticence with the media is at least part of the reason that beyond a local McDonald's ad and a few other minor deals (Ewing Athletics, Voit and SkyBox), he is not a commercial animal. Logical but wrong.
"Every athlete wants endorsements," says Ewing, "and I'm no different."
But you don't actively seek them, right, Patrick?
"That's what I pay David Falk for," he answers.
Falk confirms that Ewing would love to be a prime-time endorser, but he says that the Knicks' front-office turmoil and failures as a team since Ewing's arrival in 1985 have hurt Ewing's commercial appeal. "I think things will turn around for him endorsementwise now that the franchise has legitimacy," Falk says.
Well, maybe. But the idea that Ewing will ever be a commercial smash rings about as true as the notion that Jordan wants to decrease his exposure. ("What if my name wasn't in lights?" he asks in a new Nike ad. "What if I was just a basketball player? Could you imagine it? I can.") Jordan gravitates to the spotlight as naturally as a lizard gravitates to sunlight. But he insists, more and more, that he's going to do less and less. He says he will terminate his relationship with McDonald's, partly, he says, because it demands too much of his time. And, he says, he will not take on any new deals (he now endorses, among others, Nike, Gatorade, Wilson Sporting Goods, Upper Deck, Hanes, Ball Park franks and Wheaties).
"I also try to restrict my interviews, take a day off here and there," says Jordan. "But I'm not going to disappear."