Some day soon Patrick Ewing's response to the goading he endures will be to score 40 points, not ball up his fist. It will be pretty, for Ewing is an offensive wonder as yet unrevealed. Three times in his last five games, though, he has clenched his fist ready to punch somebody. It is not pretty.
Nobody loves Goliath. Wilt Chamberlain once chased a would-be David into the bleachers, looking to hurt him bad. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar governs his territory with fists if need be. But in the end, Wilt and Bill Russell, Abdul-Jabbar and, now, Ralph Sampson, did the most lasting injury by demonstrating, with their artistry, the eternal mediocrity of thugs, lugs, stiffs and hatchet men who would diminish the giants.
Some day soon Patrick Ewing will move with giants. He is a defensive player who changes games as no one else ever did. (Name another 7-footer who covers from the top of the key to the base line.) Some day soon Ewing will be an offensive force as well.
Exhibit A from Georgetown's 58-40 NCAA victory over Fresno State Thursday night:
Ewing thinks to stuff a shot. A 220-pound Fresno hack flies at him, using his bulk to dissuade Ewing. So instead of stuffing it, Ewing, in the air, absorbs the lug's pounding while softly, so very softly, putting the ball off the board for a layup. This is the work of physical genius.
Exhibit B: Here comes a lob pass to the right side of the rim. Ewing is on the left underneath. Now, somehow, Ewing is in the air catching the ball. But he's twisted sideways, not set for the lob-stuff. He isn't even looking at the basket. No matter. Never looking, Ewing stuffs it sidesaddle.
Exhibits C, D, E, et al, are only more examples of Ewing's marvelous manipulations with his hands while in flight and under duress. The question is, "How can you come from one side to the other, jump sideways and stuff it when you don't even look to see where the rim is?"
Ewing laughed. "I took a picture of where it was when I went by," he said.
Great athletes, like actors and dancers, have an innate knowledge of spatial relationships. Bill Bradley could walk a semicircle, his back to the rim, and throw in hooks. "You have," he said, "a sense of where you are."
A sense. A picture. Same thing.
John Thompson wishes Ewing took more pictures.
"I've seen Patrick do stuff in high school that he hasn't done here yet," the coach said. "Anything around the rim, he'll guide it in. He has an unusual ability to be in the air and still direct the ball into the hole. What frightens me is if he ever becomes hungry to score. I'll be glad when he does that."
Thompson says Ewing is such a team player eager to please his buddies that he doesn't care if he scores.
"If something has to be done offensively, he'll do it. But he would be content with not scoring at all. He's not statistics-oriented . . . He surfaces when you need him."
Along with the stuffs, Ewing has a nice 12-foot jumper. Some day soon he will add a hook. It will be pretty.
This, though, is not pretty: with two minutes left against Fresno State, Ewing drew back his right fist. He stopped. Then he angrily pressed his right hand flat against a player's throat and shoved. Next he put his index finger in the player's eye and shoved.
All unnecessary. All because a Fresno State player slapped his face--accidentally, it seemed to folks watching video-tape replays. Bobby Davis, on defense, put his right hand against Ewing's waist. Ewing knocked it away. The hand came back, so Ewing, with a windmilling motion of his left arm, knocked it away again.
This time Davis' arm sailed up toward Ewing's shoulder. Without looking, Davis flipped his hand outward, as if to shove at Ewing's shoulder in reply. But Davis' hand, rising, caught Ewing in the face. Ewing's immediate reaction was to make a fist and glare at Davis.
When Ewing saw that Davis still wasn't looking at him, he stopped and gestured to a referee. Here, play was interrupted elsewhere. Ewing then put his hand on Davis twice before Georgetown players jumped between them.
Thompson called Ewing to the sideline, where Ewing, according to press row witnesses, said, "He slapped me."
"So what?" Thompson said.
Thompson today said Ewing did not overreact.
"The kid palmed him in the face," the coach said. It would have been "a different story early in the year," he added, implying that Ewing has reined in his temper.
"Patrick's a warrior," Thompson said. "Patrick doesn't feel he was put on Earth to be beat on. When you hit him, he doesn't like it . . . Patrick hasn't learned to accept being beat up graciously."
The coach's tone suggested that Ewing should never learn to be gracious in the face of abuse. No one advocates that. The pivot, as the coach says, is no position for saints. Ewing must protect himself. But neither does anyone want to see the young man hurt himself by responding in kind to stiffs.
Some day soon Patrick Ewing will answer minor nuisances with 40 points and 20 rebounds.