Former New York Knicks president Dave Checketts explains how people misinterpret the trade that sent Patrick Ewing to Seattle in 2000.
The start of the New York Knicks‘ downward spiral toward basketball ineptitude is usually marked by two points in time: when James Dolan took over as owner of the team, and when the Knicks traded their franchise star Patrick Ewing to Seattle.
After making thirteen consecutive playoff appearances with the Big Fella in New York, the Knicks have only made the playoffs five times in the twenty seasons since. In 2000, the Knicks infamously traded the Hall-of-Famer to the Seattle Supersonics for Glen Rice, a late 2001 first round pick, and spare parts.
At the time of the deal, Ewing told his former Georgetown coach that he was shocked to be traded.
“I was shocked it happened,” Ewing said on The John Thompson Show following the trade. “I’ve been stunned for two days walking around.”
But if you were following the team back then, the trade was only shocking for the finality of it. There were plenty of indications that Ewing’s last days in New York were near.
Dave Checketts, who was president of the Knicks at the time of the deal, recently spoke with the New York Daily News about his time at Madison Square Garden. In talking about the Ewing deal, Checketts said he felt he owed it to Ewing to find him a new home after the center had poured his heart into the franchise for 15 years. He said Ewing wanted to end his career out of the limelight of New York City.
“A lot of people look back on it now and say that’s where the downturn of the Knicks started, but if you’re going to blame trading Patrick Ewing at 38 years old for starting the mess, you’re completely uninformed,” Checketts told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. “Did we do a good deal? No. Did we have a good deal on the table to do? No. But I felt — and this is me — I felt that we owed Patrick Ewing something. The guy had gone hard the whole time he was with us. He had done everything we could possibly ask of him, and now he was sincerely saying to me, ‘I want to go. I don’t want finish my career in New York. I don’t want to be under the microscope. I don’t want the New York press calling for me to sit out. I want to be somewhere else.’ And his choice was Seattle, and that’s the team we made the deal with.”
It’s no secret that Ewing wasn’t happy toward the end of his career with the Knicks. After battling with the media and fans over his failures to win a championship—yes, before Charles Oakley, it was Knicks fans criticizing the Georgetown alum—the franchise center was ready to move on.
Ewing was reportedly unhappy playing as the third star behind Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell, and in the months leading up to the trade, the Knicks and Ewing remained far apart on a two-year contract extension.
The franchise star would later admit that wishing his way out of New York was a mistake.
“If I had it to do all over again,” Ewing told ESPN. “I wouldn’t have requested a trade.”
Water under the bridge now.
Ironically, the Knicks nearly lost Ewing long before the 2000 deal to Seattle. As Checketts recalls in the same Daily News interview, the Warriors tried to steal the All Star center by taking advantage of an opt-out clause in his contract. If Chris Mullin restructured his salary to push Ewing outside of the top-four highest paid players in the league for the 1991-92 season, Ewing could decide to leave New York and relocate to Golden State.
Checketts put the pressure on Warriors owner Jim Fitzgerald and team president Dan Finnane to make sure Ewing remained in New York.
“If you do one thing to Chris Mullin’s contract to trigger Patrick Ewing going into free agency, there’s going to be a lawsuit to end all lawsuits,” Checketts told the Warriors decision makers. “You won’t be able to play basketball for as many years as I can possibly make it. Because the bad faith you’re going to generate in the league among ownership will be devastating for you.’”
Of course, Ewing remained with the Knicks for nine more seasons.
Read more from Dave Checketts about his wild time with the Knicks on the New York Daily News website.