By the time Patrick Ewing steps onto a basketball court for the New York Knicks, playing the game most likely will be the last link in what could be a multimillion-dollar chain.
Recently, the comic strip "Tank McNamara" ran a series on the NBA, presenting it as the new sport for the upscale, yuppie crowd. The addition of Ewing to New York, along with such players as Chicago's Michael Jordan and Houston's Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olajuwon, will only enhance that image.
With good reason. It was recently reported that Jordan received a royalty check for $225,000 from Nike for wearing the company's products. Jordan signed a five-year, $1.5 million contract with Nike before the season. The Chicago Sun-Times also has reported other endorsements by Jordan, including Chevrolet and McDonald's, will total another $1.5 million this year, making his yearly salary of $510,000 from the Bulls seem rather paltry.
Like Jordan, Ewing will be represented by ProServ in Washington. Whether he can bring in similar endorsements remains to be seen, but surely his new advisers are mapping strategy for lucrative offcourt opportunities in addition to his Knicks salary.
Ewing's impact also will be felt by television networks carrying NBA games. Rights figures being paid by CBS and WTBS should increase. Ratings should increase, especially in the New York market, which would lead to higher prices for advertising spots and thus be able to charge higher prices for advertising.
The Knicks have no doubt they will profit from Ewing's presence.
According to Carl Martin, the team's director of information, the Knicks sold 5,600 season tickets last season. He figures that will be doubled and maybe tripled this season. Whatever the final numbers, there will be a dramatic increase in attendance at the Garden.
"I can't begin to estimate what this means in terms of money to the club," Martin said. "We were in the process of reevaluating our ticket prices before the lottery. Now we'll have to start all over again."
While New York rejoiced at the outcome of the lottery, there were some eyebrows raised when it was learned that the accounting firm that handled the lottery's paperwork -- Ernst & Whinney of New York -- also is the auditing firm for Gulf & Western, which owns the Knicks.
NBA Commissioner David Stern said today he did not want to comment on the subject.
Meanwhile, Ewing's impact will be most visible on the basketball court.
"A lot of people don't think he'll be a good offensive player but I'm not one of them," Boston forward Larry Bird said. "He'll be challenged a lot, but he'll learn."
"On the surface, (New York is) right up there with the league powers," said Jack McMahon, the Philadelphia 76ers' assistant coach and chief scout. "They were far and away the best team in the lottery, with a good center (Bill Cartwright) and the premier scoring small forward (Bernard King) in the league."
But what looks good on paper doesn't always measure up to reality, McMahon continued.
"They're a trapping team and certainly he'll be able to cover up any mistakes made by the other players, but will he be foul-prone? In college, he had trouble at times and that was against teams that held the ball for three or four minutes at a time. Now there will be a lot more opportunities to play defense."
McMahon thinks Ewing will compare favorably on offense with Boston's Kevin McHale, a resourceful low-post player. McHale, though, compares Ewing to another great center.
"I think his numbers will be more like Bill Walton's: 15-16 points and 10-11 rebounds per game," McHale said. "Sometimes those guys are more effective for a team because the energy they're not expending on offense they'll bring over to defense."
McHale's questions regarding Ewing deal mainly with his teammates. "I think that he'll magnify Bernard King's game. Bill Cartwright had to get shots and you could never accuse him of setting massive picks to get you open, but do they try to play the three of them together?"
Some observers feel Cartwright will become a power forward and start alongside Ewing and King. McHale laughs at the thought.
"That might work against some teams but a fast-break squad would run them off the floor," he said. "Plus, it would take away Bernard's effectiveness down low. And you know New York. If things aren't going well, people can get on your case and change your attitude about the game in a hurry."
Cartwright has felt the wrath of New York's fans throughout his six-year career. Yet his attorney, Bob Woolf, said that he's been assured by Knicks General Manager Dave DeBusschere that Cartwright, a free agent, will not be traded.
Cartwright may not be re-signed until Ewing joins the fold to take advantage of league rules under the salary cap, which state that a team may re-sign any of its own free agents without affecting its salary limit.
Cartwright is one of eight free agents on the New York roster, another factor that will work in the team's favor in two ways. The first will involve negotiations with Ewing.
According to Woolf, who also represents Bird and Doug Flutie of the USFL's New Jersey Generals, among others, negotiations for Ewing's contract probably will begin at about $1 million a year, graduating to about $2 million per annum at the conclusion of a six- or seven-year deal.
"You have to take the past as an indicator and that means people like Olajuwon and Sampson," Woolf said. "A million a year will be no problem. How much more than that will depend on how creative the thinking gets. With the cap, you're trying to extend money to a future date so that it doesn't apply now."
Olajuwon received $700,000 this season from the Houston Rockets. In four years, that figure will have increased by a million dollars.
Ewing's presence also will help the Knicks in the free-agent market. New York needs help at guard, and quality talent such as Norm Nixon of the Los Angeles Clippers is available. So is Darrell Griffith of the Utah Jazz, another Woolf client who, the agent said, "would probably be interested in what New York had to say."