The birthday boy was dressed in blue shorts, a white clip-on bow tie and a teddy bear bib. Purple crepe paper was draped around the living room and yellow birthday balloons were stacked on a chair. On the dining room table there were two cakes, cookies, paper hats and plates. The motif was strictly Sesame Street.
Patrick Aloysius Ewing Jr. will be 1 year old Monday. But his dad, the 7-foot basketball center from Georgetown University, the grand prize in the NBA lottery, wasn't there for the party today at the Ewing family home. No one seemed to mind. Father and son will be together next weekend at Georgetown's graduation ceremonies. Late in the afternoon, Dad called with birthday wishes, but by then his son was fast asleep.
And so today little Patrick crawled on the floor amid the trophies and the plaques and the photographs and the mementos of his father's celebrated basketball career.
Like any 1-year-old, the boy, visiting his grandparents' house for the day, seemed oblivious to the party preparations around him. He seemed most content when someone handed him a basketball, and squealed with indignation when his mother stopped him from grabbing a hunk of his Big Bird birthday cake. Neighbors and friends, his uncle and his grandfather were there with their presents, but as the afternoon wore on Patrick lay down on the floor, clearly tuckered out from the attention.
It has been four days since Patrick Jr. and his mother Sharon Stanford, 21, made their rather abrupt public debut. Stanford, Ewing's high school sweetheart, says a New York Post reporter who had come to the Ewing home discovered the baby's birth certificate on Patrick Ewing's bedroom dresser, where the reporter had gone to admire trophies. Since then, little Patrick has become the most sought-after baby on the eastern seaboard.
"He's just like any other baby that's been born into this world," Stanford said, seated in the Ewing living room just before the birthday party was to begin. There's no denying, though, that the child, already tall and lanky for his age, brings a new dimension to the public image of Patrick Ewing, the long-silent and sheltered king of college basketball.
"Really, I'm glad it came out and it's out of the way now. At least I won't have to deal with it later," said Stanford, wearing a white dress embroidered with roses and blue high-heel shoes for the occasion. She will not say, however, what "later" means for her.
As for Patrick Ewing, she said, "We're still friends. I won't tell anyone anything further than that." She won't say if she and their son will move to New York, where Ewing is expected to play for the New York Knicks after being officially selected as the NBA's No. 1 draft pick June 18. And she won't comment on whether the baby or she will benefit from Ewing's potential $1 million a year contract.
"I don't really want to say anything that could possibly get him into trouble," she said of Ewing.
"He does his share," Stanford said of Ewing's contribution to his son's financial support, and "he is a very good father." But she made it clear that while she values Ewing's support -- both emotional and financial -- she could do it alone if she had to.
"I don't have to depend on anyone," said Stanford, who works as a computer operator on the midnight shift at Wang Laboratories in a Boston suburb. For the all-night hours she gets a 15 percent salary differential. She and her son live with her mother in a small town 20 miles north of Boston.
She is close to Patrick's family. "We are all friends," she says. "We have been friends for a long time."
"Patrick's money means nothing to me at all. I prefer to have him without money and have him be the nice person he is than have money and have a whole lot of headaches," she said.
"I don't really care. I don't really care if he doesn't give me a dime . . . He's my child and I love him."
Stanford and Ewing met in a geometry class their senior year at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. He was a basketball star but she was suspicious of popular people. She thought they couldn't be trusted. He was persistent. Now she says, "It seems so far back, it's hard to remember."
They had a relationship, which she will not describe, for two to three years after they met. After high school, she went to the Barbizon modeling school in Boston and then modeled for a shopkeeper who sold silk dresses. She worked as a bank teller.
In August 1983, she began studying accounting at Morgan State University in Baltimore, but left that October when she discovered she was pregnant. Through the years she has seen some Georgetown baseketball games and made a few trips to Washington. She met Coach John Thompson at a banquet a couple of years ago but she doubts that he remembers her.
Patrick Ewing Jr. was born at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston weighing in at 6 pounds 13 ounces. The father was present in the hospital delivery room for his son's birth. Ewing happened to be home from school that weekend. Her labor began early that Sunday morning.
"He wanted a boy all along," said Stanford, and the boy is indeed his father's image. He has a wide smile, with six teeth so far. The child has a charming and affectionate nature, the sort that his father has just barely started to reveal to his adoring fans. According to his mother, little Patrick has the usual repertoire of 1-year-old words: "da-da" (his father's favorite), "no," "yes," "stop," "bye-bye," "hi" and "kiss." He stands a very wobbly 30 inches tall at least, and is now a slim 24 pounds.
Ewing visits when he is in the area, though his schedule has often been crowded with school and basketball obligations. "He is great with him," said Stanford. Ewing plays with his son, talks to him and tries to teach him things like how to walk and how to count.
Stanford says she didn't plan on having a baby until she married, but she won't say if she and Ewing ever had such plans.
"I think it's hard on every single mother. If anyone has a baby, they should wait until you get married because you need that support, moral support," she said. She said she gets that support from Ewing, with whom she talks every week.
And she says she is happy for Patrick Ewing and his success.
"I know Pat has been blessed and I hope he continues to pursue his career and God bless him," she said.
As for the New York Knicks, Stanford said, "I don't really follow the Knicks . . . I'm really a Philadelphia fan. I like Dr. J. And I like Magic Johnson out of Los Angeles."
She will admit she is fond of Ewing but she only laughs in an embarrassed way when asked about whether she loves him or whether he loves her. Her hands are folded neatly in the lap of her white dress. She has a small ring with several tiny diamonds on her left hand but she won't say where or from whom it came.
She's not protecting Patrick Ewing, she says with a laugh, as if such a thought for such a big man is a silly one. She says she just prefers that any question about Ewing be directed to him. "I just feel that if I give information out on him, it's his business," she said. Ewing, through his agent in Washington, has proudly commented on his son and said that he "loves him a great deal."
As for herself, Stanford says she would like to go back to school, this time to study law.
"I just want to go to school, get myself together and take care of the kid," she said.
Stanford doesn't think she's going to be able to go to Washington next Sunday with little Patrick for his father's Georgetown graduation. "I don't think I can get the time off from work," she said. But if she could go, she added quietly, she would.
Nearby, Patrick Jr. was being cuddled by friends and neighbors and waiting for his birthday party to begin.