The rolling stone that gathered lots of bad memories as it swelled for 10 years and crushed the dreams and hopes of a franchise began with a simple push, which Patrick Ewing feels remorseful for applying.
There are many who are far guiltier of creating the Decade of Disaster for the Knicks. Yet nobody feels worse about it than the one who unintentionally sent them careening.
"If I had it to do all over again," said Ewing. "I wouldn't have requested a trade."
Who knew that a simple yet firm demand, made in 2000, would still be haunting the Knicks today? The franchise brass certainly didn't. Neither did Ewing, who today serves as an assistant to Stan Van Gundy on the Orlando Magic bench. Speaking before Game 1 of the Magic-Charlotte Bobcats series, Ewing made it clear he still feels bad about leaving New York. In retrospect, the trade of Patrick Ewing caused the same impact as the drafting of Patrick Ewing. Just as the Knicks saw their fortunes soar when former general manager Dave DeBusschere pounded his fist at the draft lottery on the pivotal day that enabled the Knicks to get Ewing, his trade subsequently prompted plenty more clenched fists pounded for altogether different reasons.
It certainly isn't an anniversary worth celebrating in New York. Not while the NBA playoffs are currently percolating, to use a Clyde Frazierism, in places like Cleveland, Charlotte, Milwaukee and (get this) Oklahoma City. The sheer damage caused by the horrible decision to trade Ewing must be assessed, if only to cite how desperately the franchise has fallen on the eve of the Great Free Agent Summer Chase.
Back in late summer of 2000, the Knicks sent Ewing to Seattle. It was a panic move. It was a stupid move. They refused to extend his contract beyond the one year remaining on it, were wary about his skills, and didn't want to deal with the possibility of a grumpy, aging star in a tabloid city. The Knicks figured: This is Latrell Sprewell's team now. So they caved to Ewing, who felt beaten down by the burden of winning a championship and beaten up by the only team he ever knew.
"Everybody was talking about how the team was better off without me, so ... " he said, leaving you to finish the thought.
The trade was insane because, even at the time, it didn't make sense. Ewing's final year paid roughly $18 million. All the Knicks had to do was sit tight, deal with a star in his twilight for one season, then watch as those millions melted off the salary cap. Then they could've used the money on someone else, as Orlando did that summer with Tracy McGrady.
Instead, Dave Checketts agreed to take a bag of bad contracts in return, removing the Knicks from free agency and laying the foundation for the worst decade in franchise history.
In order to trade Ewing, the Knicks had to take Luc Longley and Glen Rice and other lumps of coal; nobody was giving them expiring contracts or talented players for someone who eventually reminded folks of Willie Mays in his final days with the Mets. The Knicks, charging $1,000 for those courtside seats, were in mortal fear of rebuilding in New York, as if their fans wouldn't understand the reasons for it.
So they swung the deal and spent the next 10 years rebuilding.
Soon after, Checketts left, in a Garden coup. So did Jeff Van Gundy, escaping before all hell broke loose. Sprewell, the Ewing heir apparent, took a torch to the franchise on his way out, then lit into Garden boss Jim Dolan in a spiteful return. As Knicks general managers, Scott Layden was bad, Isiah Thomas much, much worse. And just imagine, the Knicks once floated the idea of selling Stephon Marbury as the most beloved star since Ewing. Yeah, that turned out well.
How quickly people forgot about the virtues of Ewing. While he didn't deliver the much-desired championship -- and thank Michael Jordan for that -- Ewing deserved to spend his entire career with one team, as superstars of his type often do. He forced their hand, true enough, but the Knicks controlled the situation. Had they not traded Ewing, he said he would've reported to camp and played hard. Like always. He would've been professional about it. Again, like always. And unlike Sprewell and Marbury.
Curiously, the Knicks now are right where they would've been in the summer of 2001: blessed with ample salary-cap space and a big city to sell to free agents. No telling what would've happened back then on the market, but we've got a hunch about what will happen now. LeBron James will probably stay in Cleveland and, unlike Ewing, spend his entire career with one team. Dwyane Wade will remain on South Beach, where chances are he'll be joined by Chris Bosh, who's ready to bolt the Canadian winters and a stormy situation in Toronto. The top free agents look at the Knicks and just don't see enough talent to win. Maybe, had the Knicks drafted Brandon Jennings last summer, or traded up for Stephen Curry, they would've had a real shot at signing one of the free agent Big Three.
Instead ... Carlos Boozer, anybody?
Most likely, the decision the Knicks made in 2000 will haunt them at least another year.
And it'll be another year removed from the trade that never should've happened. As remorseful as Ewing feels, he has nothing on the fans who are still living through it.
Shaun Powell is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.