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NBA Wives' Tale

By Kevin Merida
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 27, 1998

  In Style


    NBA wives Crystal McCrary, left, and Rita Ewing say their book is strictly fiction, even if it hits close to home court. (Lucian Perkins/The Post)
Out on the book-tour hustings, a couple of stunning National Basketball Association wives are promoting a saucy new book about their husbands' currently moribund league. Oh, they say their work is fiction, and the jacket cover confirms it's "a novel" (in small print, anyway). But the early notices suggest otherwise.

Mirabella: "A new novel by Rita Ewing and Crystal McCrary slam-dunks some of the league's biggest names in the 'Primary Colors' of the sports world."

Ewing and McCrary are eager to explain. They are best friends (Ewing introduced McCrary to her husband) and "Homecourt Advantage" (Avon Books) is their first book. Both are smart and sagacious, charmingly playful and burdened by the kind of natural beauty that stops traffic. And what little traffic there is in the Madison Hotel one morning has come to a fawning halt as they walk through the lobby and select a table for breakfast.

"All of the characters in the novel are fictitious," chimes in McCrary, who says she is happily married to Seattle SuperSonics guard Greg Anthony. "There's not a character in the book drawn from a real-life person."

"People are sort of accusing us of using the NBA in a vengeful way," adds Ewing, whose estranged husband, New York Knicks superstar Patrick Ewing, had an alleged affair with a Knicks dancer that was exposed to the world this past January on the Howard Stern radio show.

Ewing Patrick Ewing (AP photo)
   
"You have to wonder why," muses McCrary, as in why people would see their book as payback.

"This would not have been a smart move on our part," counsels Ewing, a businesswoman with a Georgetown law degree. "I am still married to Patrick Ewing. Why would we want to go out and bash all of these friends and burn all of these bridges?"

"It would have shown our naivete," asserts McCrary, a former entertainment lawyer now pursuing a full-time writing career.

"We thought we were doing something good," pleads Ewing, 32, who grew up in Prince George's County.

"The characters are based on our imagination," insists McCrary, 29, who went to law school at American University.

"But gosh," Ewing interjects, "as far as this being the 'Primary Colors' of the NBA. ..."

"It diminishes the amount of creative work we put in it," says McCrary.

They go on like this for an hour, like a Wrestlemania tag team, finishing each other's sentences, coming to each other's aid. Between oral arguments they laugh a lot, showing off sparkling white smiles and high cheekbones. McCrary ponders the "do-not-disturb" instructions NBA players leave with hotel attendants so they won't receive telephone calls. "I wonder what they're doing?" McCrary asks mischievously. Trying to get some rest? Heh-heh-heh.

"Homecourt Advantage" takes us through a season with the New York Flyers (New York Knicks?) and features a soap opera cast of characters that include:

  • Alexis, the meddling "Miss Manners" wife of the team's control-freak, GQ-cover-adorning coach. (Could that be Knicks ex-coach Pat Riley?)
  • Casey, the iron-willed attorney wife of the team's star player, Brent Rogers, who has an out-of-wedlock daughter with a groupie. (Could Casey be Rita and Brent be Patrick Ewing, who has a real-life out-of-wedlock son?)
  • Remy, a popular entertainer whose Flyer boyfriend discovers he is gay and falls in love with the team's broadcaster.
  • Lorraine, who's married to a devoted, Christian Flyer and has the only stable relationship in the book – except she is haunted by an unsolved murder she witnessed many years ago.
  • Dawn, the fiancee of the NBA's top rookie, who shows up unannounced at an away game to find her mate with a super-model – "roadkill," as the players call it.
  • Kelly, the conniving, treacherous ex-girlfriend who refuses to let her meal ticket go.
  • Trina, the slaving wife of the veteran player with a gambling problem who gets treated like a housekeeper.

The book is 336 pages of lust and distrust, gossip and innuendo, the trappings of money and the seductions of power. Love and heartache turn in strong performances. So do friendship and betrayal. And, oh yeah, basketball makes a cameo. That's because basketball is just a prop for the narrative, which centers on the dysfunctional off-court lives of multimillionaire athletes and their significant others.

There's no reason for the authors to be defensive about their book. "Homecourt Advantage" doesn't go beyond the vast body of nonfiction work on the sports world. Sports Illustrated's special report this year on athletes and their out-of-wedlock children is but one example. The autobiographies of Magic Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain also highlighted the often-reckless sexual behavior of pro athletes.

The lives of professional sports wives have been less frequently chronicled, though long the subject of public curiosity. How do these women stay with men who are constantly lavished with adulation, who always seem to have a slew of prospective paramours? Are these wives just star-struck gold diggers eager to ride the easy life of fame and big bucks? What is it like to be with an athlete alone at home, away from the stadium crowds and autograph seekers?

In 1982, Grubb Graebner's off-Broadway play "Baseball Wives" portrayed the heroes of the field as selfish and shallow human beings whose wives were forced to cope with their deficiencies as best they could. Cyndy Garvey's 1989 book, "The Secret Life of Cyndy Garvey," described her years living with her emotionally abusive baseball husband, Steve Garvey, and how a part of her was dying inside until she decided after 10 years to get out.

Part of why the authors are so sensitive about their book is that the NBA is a small, exclusive society that frowns on traitors.

"We never intended to come out and purport to be experts on infidelity in the NBA," says Rita Ewing. "We hoped this would be an entertaining book."

Of course, she is not without opinions on infidelity.

"I don't think cheating is any more of a concern with NBA wives than it is with other married women," says Ewing, who was told by an NBA player that 95 percent of the guys in the league cheat. She estimates that 75 percent of the cheaters have women who are doing the same thing. "It's all about the kind of trust you have in your relationship." Apparently, not much in the NBA.

On this, Deborah Williams disagrees. She is head of Behind the Bench, the 110-member NBA wives association.

"I don't know where those statistics come from," says Williams, whose husband, Herb, is an NBA free agent this year. "That's definitely not my perspective at all. Most of the wives are monogamous and very much into maintaining their households." And the players? "Do I think the majority cheat on their wives? No, I do not."

Well, the book speaks for itself. It's a romp, not anything else.

"We recognize this is not a literary piece of work," says McCrary, who once represented literary and theater figures such as Andrew Lloyd Webber. "It's not going to win a Pulitzer Prize. So we're not kidding ourselves."

On that point, she's right. The dialogue, for the most part, is pedestrian and cliche-ridden, the plot unimaginatively improbable. But hey, movie rights to the book already have been snapped up by a film triad that includes Wesley Snipes's production company.

You can say this much for "Homecourt Advantage": It's not boring. There is enough racy material (a sexual encounter over Cristal champagne in a nightclub booth), enough insider accounts of player behavior (the practice of swapping tickets with teammates to cut down on confrontations among female admirers in the stands) and enough name-dropping (Robert De Niro, Tyra Banks, Michael Jordan) to make "Homecourt Advantage" a page turner.

Rita Ewing, however, wonders why anyone would think their book makes the league's players look like louses.

Rita, turn to Page 115.

"Do you want some breakfast?" Trina asked.

"After I shower, but just some plain pancakes and eggs. None of that fancy stuff you be experimenting with."

"Fine, Rick."

"I'm serious, Trina. I don't want no scallions or garlic or nothing crazy in my eggs."

"Okay, Rick, give me a break," Trina said, looking to see if the kids were watching them.

"Give you a break? You're kidding me, right? All you ever get is breaks. I don't ask much of you except to keep the house quiet while I'm sleeping. It's the play-offs . . . Damn! It's not like you have a real job. The only thing you have to do is cook me my meals."

For fiction, it sure seems to have made an impression around the league. The NBA's executives, players, coaches and agents have been aggressively mum.

"We are aware of the book and aware of what Rita said of the book, that it's fictional, and other than that we have no comment," said Chris Weiller of the Knicks. Calls to NBA headquarters and to Patrick Ewing and his agent, David Falk – some have speculated Falk is the model for the book's slimy agent – also elicited the phrase "no comment."

Williams of the NBA wives association says there was some anxiety early on that relationships might be "maligned" and "family business exposed," but those concerns have quieted as more and more wives have read the book. "I haven't had to put out any fires," she says.

As for the rest of the league, maybe they're just too distracted. The players and owners are in the midst of a bitter feud over huge piles of money (they call it a "lockout"). Games already have been canceled, fans are howling and the entire season is in jeopardy.

Rita Ewing is reluctant to talk about her breakup with her husband, who is president of the NBA players union, one of the league's highest-paid players and owner of a $1.6 million residence in Potomac. They met in 1983 when she was a 17-year-old Howard University intern in then-Sen. Bill Bradley's office. Ewing, a big-time Georgetown University basketball star at the time, was a summer intern for the Senate Finance Committee. He would sometimes make deliveries to Bradley's office and became smitten.

In February, after 7 1/2 years of marriage, Rita Ewing released a statement from her divorce attorney confirming that she and her husband had split but were trying to work out an "amicable resolution to our problems." The statement came three weeks after a caller to the Howard Stern radio show claimed Ewing was having an affair with Knicks dancer Heather Errico. At the time, Errico was an intern for Stern. Errico resigned from the Knicks City troupe after the flap, but she has since said she didn't cause the breakup.

"Cheez, can we let that go?" begs Rita Ewing, acting as though she is hardly wounded, just annoyed. "By now, I'm friends with the girl."

She's kidding.

"To this day, as far as I know that woman was a rumor," she maintains. "But Patrick and me have had our issues for a long time."

What issues, she won't say. Though separated from the player who signed a four-year, $68 million contract last year, Rita Ewing says she is not bitter. "We are probably better friends than we've ever been." Then she turns playful, as though she's singing the theme song from "Barney": "I love him. He loves me."

"It's a sensitive topic," McCrary interjects.

"I had a wonderful marriage," says Ewing.

Had, as in the past.

   
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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