Patrick Ewing was presented the Eastman Award as the top male collegiate basketball player of the year today at a luncheon held at the 21 Club in Manhattan. When the guest of honor was introduced, he strode out of a back room, nattily attired in a gray flannel suit with pink shirt and gray striped tie.
Standing at the podium, before a room full of representatives of the print, radio and television media, Ewing smiled, the main character in a scene vaguely reminiscent of a debutante coming out at the cotillion.
Ewing politely said he was "very honored to be chosen for the award. I'm especially happy because I was chosen by the coaches of college basketball. I would also like to take the time to thank my teammates and my family; without them this award wouldn't be possible."
A short time later, the floor was opened to questions from the assembled media. The first was query from a New York Post reporter who wanted to know Ewing's thoughts on playing St. John's for a fourth time this season in Saturday's Final Four semifinal game in Lexington, Ky.
Georgetown's basketball information director, Bill Shapland, interrupted, saying the reason Ewing had come to New York was to accept the award, not to discuss St. John's or the Final Four. The writer suggested that Ewing be allowed to determine what he would and would not talk about.
Shapland agreed and the Hoyas' center was asked the question again. "Like Bill said, I really don't wish to comment at this time," Ewing said.
As the day went on, Ewing was shuttled about for interview after interview.
Whenever he chose to answer a question (which was more often than not), Ewing was polite, sensitive and insightful. And, depending on how the subject was broached, he told any journalist anything he or she wanted to know.
For example, despite a career that has included the NCAA title last spring, the Olympic gold medal over the summer and another Final Four trip this week, Ewing said he felt "I haven't proven anything yet. I still have to graduate and there's still one more championship to be won."
Regarding the Final Four, Ewing said, "It's harder to get to the Final Four than it is to win it. There's so much stress. The Final Four is the easiest part of the season. Experience doesn't matter much. It's the team that's playing best at the time."
And who's playing the best right now?
"Georgetown's playing very well."
As to the dominance of the Big East in this year's Final Four, Ewing reflected on the development of the conference, citing past players like "Eric Floyd, Leo Rautins, Karl Hobbs and Corny Thompson, players of that caliber . . . I'm happy for the seniors on each of the (Big East) teams, the Final Four is something great to experience."
With the exception of having microphones shoved perilously close to his nose, Ewing seemed remarkably at ease.
At one point, Ewing said he wished that he had another year of eligibility at Georgetown, but he realized that "it's time I go on to the next level." He was asked if he realized that "the next level" would include many more gatherings like Tuesday's and was he prepared to deal with that.
"Does it really?" Ewing asked back, smiling again. "I feel comfortable here, definitely. I think I'm capable of dealing with anything."
Ewing seemed taken a bit aback when asked if this season's Georgetown team was the best of his four-year career. "That's the hardest question of all to answer, I'll have to answer it after this season."
And how would Ewing feel if, in a monumental upset, the Hoyas were to fall short. "As long as we gave it our best shot and tried hard, I'd try and not be disappointed," he said. "When I came to Georgetown I was looking to get four championships."
Today he got one of the game's most prestigious awards, sponsored by the Eastman-Kodak Corp. "I'm a normal human like anybody else," Ewing said. "Naturally, I'm happy I won the award. It means that all the hard work I've put into basketball is starting to be rewarded."
Shortly thereafter, a maroon limousine pulled up to the curb outside the club, waiting to take Ewing back to La Guardia Airport and then Washington. Ewing climbed inside and the car whisked away. The coming out party was over.