How can one measure a man's dreams, his hopes and aspirations?
Surely not on a scoreboard. The fact that the Washington Bullets defeated the New York Knicks, 85-78, last night was next to irrelevant. The game, played before a sellout crowd of about 10,000 at the opening of the Patriot Center at George Mason University, was sloppy, as the opening of the exhibition season is wont to be.
The two teams totaled 58 turnovers. Passes intended for hands bounced off heads. The Knicks shot 39 percent from the field. The Bullets weren't much better at 41. There were 55 fouls.
And yet there had to be a reason for the electricity that galvanized those in attendance, a group that included such luminaries as television personality Kathleen Sullivan and basketball aficionado/actor Jack Nicholson.
In fact there were three reasons: Patrick Ewing, Manute Bol and, to a lesser extent, Kenny Green.
Ewing, the All-America center from Georgetown University and the No. 1 choice in the 1985 NBA draft, had 10 points and 15 rebounds in 24 minutes. He was the glamorous drawing card, yet much of his thunder was stolen by Bol. The 7-foot-7 second-round Bullets draft choice played 16 minutes. He hit only one of two shots from the field and had a mere two rebounds but displayed his enormous defensive potential by blocking six shots.
Green was overlooked in all the hoopla surrounding the two giants. As it turned out, he may have preferred it that way. In 13 minutes of action, Washington's No. 1 selection in last June's draft made two turnovers and went zero for three from the field, scoring his three points from the foul line.
"I'll get better," he said, most likely expressing the sentiments of all three men. "I couldn't believe how nervous I was. Shots I know I can make in my sleep I missed."
He didn't enter the game until four minutes had passed in the second quarter, long after Ewing's career was under way. Ewing would say later that he "considers all games to be a big deal," yet the opening moments of his debut were inauspicious. After a teammate missed a shot, Ewing powered his way to the basket and grabbed the basketball in mid-flight -- only to have his stuff shot carom off the rim.
The play reminded some observers of an early moment in the career of another tremendously hyped player, Ralph Sampson of the Houston Rockets. It was in an exhibition game against the Milwaukee Bucks that Sampson, trying to start a fast break, managed to throw the basketball against a guy wire high above the court at the Mecca.
Ewing recovered quickly, scoring a three-point play and adding another four points and five rebounds in the opening period. When he left the game with 3:57 left, New York had a 15-10 lead. At the end of the quarter the Knicks trailed, 20-17.
"Playing in a sold-out building near his home, in front of his old teammates and coach, that's pressure," said Coach Hubie Brown of the Knicks. "I thought he was solid but I've never had any questions about him. Even if you don't like Patrick Ewing, you can't walk out of this building and not say that he's a great player."
"People like Patrick and Bol broke the ice and that's the big thing," said Knicks guard Rory Sparrow. "Before, they were anticipating what it would be like; now, they know. They got a chance to grade themselves against the best in the NBA. They discovered the levels they have to work toward."
Sparrow said the aspect of Ewing's game that he appreciates the most is "just his presence. Looking down the hole and knowing there's someone there who can throw the other team's shots away makes you feel good."
By those measurements, there was reason for much good cheer on the Washington bench. Bol had only seen Ewing when Georgetown played on national television; now, for 56 fleeting seconds of the first quarter they stood face to face. "He's big but I'm taller than him," said Bol. "I can play with those guys."
That he did, three times blocking shots by New York's Bill Cartwright. During his brief flurries against the 250-pound Ewing, Bol, weighing in at 204 pounds, never bent and never broke.