Tuesday, November 14
Reed: Pat is greatest Knicks center
By Adrian Wojnarowski
Special to ESPN.com

 Willis Reed had gone hunting in the wilds of Montana this summer, lost in the woods without word out of the outside world when he happened onto a small town where a stranger stopped him on the street.
Reed, Willis
Willis Reed or Patrick Ewing? Reed wins if you're talking about winning a title.

"What do you think of the Patrick Ewing trade?" the man asked him.

For a second, the old captain of the Knicks was speechless.

The Ewing trade?

In the moment it took him to digest the news, Reed rewound back 15 years, to the summer between the NBA draft and Knicks training camp, when he used a private moment with Ewing to made a modest request.

"Congratulations," Reed told him. "I want you to have a great career, win some championships, but don't play so well that they forget me."

A shy, respectful Ewing replied: "I could never do that."

In his suburban New Jersey living room, Reed planned to watch the Knicks-Sonics on Tuesday night at KeyArena, the awkward reunion game that Reed's glad he never had to play in his old basketball age. Nobody rooted harder for Ewing to win a ring with the Knicks, to get the parade down the Canyon of Heroes that Reed made twice in the backseat of a convertible.

Fifteen years ago, Reed watched his old teammate, then the Knicks general manager, Dave DeBusschere, pound his fist on the table on draft lottery day, celebrating the arrival of a savior promising to bring back the glory.

Over the next decade and a half, Ewing paid the price for the franchise's dysfunction, losing years out of his prime until Michael Jordan and the Bulls shaved a few more for him.

"It's so sad to me that he wouldn't get to finish his whole career in New York," Reed said. "In my mind, he was the kind of the player, with the right people around him, they would've won a championship. They should've won a championship. He was a great center.

"I rate him as the greatest center to ever play for the Knicks."

Across New York, they'll beg to differ with Reed's self-deprecation, dismissing the stats and the awards and insist there's just one relevant criteria to consider: Two ticker tape parades to none.
It's so sad to me that he wouldn't get to finish his whole career in New York. In my mind, he was the kind of the player, with the right people around him, they would've won a championship. They should've won a championship. He was a great center.
Willis Reed

Reed shakes his head, as though to say, "No, no, no."

"If you look at all his stats, the number of times he made the All-Star team, scoring and rebounding averages, he had a great career," Reed said. "You don't appreciate it until you don't have that kind of guy. A lot of teams never had that kind of guy. The unfortunate thing is that they never put the right pieces together. He had almost had it together with Pat Riley (in 1994), when they went to seven games in Houston. If Olajuwon doesn't tip that ball on that (John) Starks shot, he might have won it.

"He's got all the numbers. But during that time, they just didn't have the pieces together. In the prime of his career, he was doing the thing that it takes to win championships in that position."

The longer Reed talked on Ewing and his legacy, the easier it was to come clean on a confession: Across his glorious decade as a Knick, he never lost the fear of leaving town in a trade. Even after limping into Madison Square Garden for the start of Game 7 in the 1970 NBA Finals, maybe the most unforgettable moment in New York sports history, Reed lived with the fear of closing out his days in the strange colors of a strange uniform.

"The story was in those years, if you wanted to get traded, just go buy a house," Reed said. "I never owned a house when I was playing with the Knicks. Everybody told me, 'Don't buy a house, man.' The one thing I did that made sure that I had a chance to finish my career with the Knicks was that I rented a place in Queens."

Eventually, Reed had to leave the Knicks, too. They fired him as coach. He moved across the Hudson River to work for the Nets, where he's worked for 12 years now. Before he had a chance to see the Sonics-Knicks on television Tuesday night, he had a chance to see the Sonics-Nets live on Saturday in East Rutherford, N.J. It was the strangest sight for Reed to see Ewing, a humbling moment to remember his good fortune to closing out his career in Madison Square Garden.

"I work for the New Jersey Nets, but I'll always be a Knick," Reed said. "I'll be a Knick fan. I'll be a Knick player. They can't take that away. That's part of my life. My mom had come to visit me after we had won a big game with the Nets. I said, 'Hey mom, you see we won tonight?' She said, 'Yeah, the Knicks won tonight.' 'Oh no, Mom, the Nets won.'

"She thinks of me a Knick. And that's OK. That's a good thing to be. People will appreciate Patrick more after he leaves than when he was here ... But he'll be a Knick. To me, he will always be a Knick."

Adrian Wojnarowski, a columnist for the Bergen (N.J.) Record is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at NJCOL1@aol.com.