A capacity crowd of 19,591 and a nationwide television audience got a glimpse of the future today at Madison Square Garden.
Unfortunately for the home-team New York Knicks, the specter of Patrick Ewing rising on professional basketball's horizon was eclipsed by the present, more specifically, the presence of Moses Malone.
The nine-year NBA veteran scored 35 points and added 13 rebounds in leading the Philadelphia 76ers to a 99-89 victory in the season opener for both teams.
"It was the first time I played against him and I didn't know what to expect," said Ewing. "Now I know."
Despite the loss, Ewing had his moments. The former Georgetown center scored 18 points, making eight of 21 shots from the field. There also were six rebounds, two steals and three blocked shots.
Even more importantly, Ewing, his left arm bandaged and padded as a result of a preseason altercation with Steve Stipanovich of the Indiana Pacers, might have put an end to Coach Hubie Brown's rigid platoon system.
Today, Ewing had a two-minute break early in the second quarter and another in the fourth. For the rest of the contest -- 44 minutes in all -- he was out on the floor. And in the trenches, and on the boards and at the wings of the fast break as well, in what, for much of the afternoon, was an impressive performance.
"He's a winner all the way and he'll be a monster in this league for years to come," said Brown. "But it's like I keep telling everybody, the man can't do it all by himself."
That became very evident in the second half when Ewing, perhaps fatigued, made only a basket and free throw. The field goal came with five minutes to play and represented the Knicks' last hope to get back into the game.
The Knicks had led, 59-56, with 5:59 left in the third period when Malone took control. The 6-foot-11 center scored 12 points in the final 5:03 of the period to give the 76ers a 74-67 lead.
Ewing's last basket closed the Knicks to 88-80. However, Malone, who scored 18 points in the final two quarters, came back with a basket, a long jump shot that barely beat the 24-second clock.
The amazement Malone's shot aroused in New York fans and players was reciprocated in the Philadelphia locker room when the subject turned to Ewing's offensive abilities.
"You hear so much about his defense, his shot-blocking and his enthusiasm, but he had a heck of an offensive game," said 76ers Coach Matty Guokas, also making his debut. "He looked like a seasoned pro out there."
There was nothing remotely seasoned about Ewing's first professional basket, just raw instinct. Less than 30 seconds into the game, he stripped the ball from Malone in the lane, then threw an outlet pass to start a fast break. After Darrell Walker missed a jumper a few seconds later, Ewing craned down from the sky and slammed the ball back through the basket.
Ewing or power forward Pat Cummings (28 points) scored all but six of the Knicks' 23 first-quarter points, a lack of balance that was very telling by game's end. The other three starters for New York, Walker, Rory Sparrow and Gerald Wilkins, shot eight for 27 for the contest, as the team shot an anemic 39 percent from the field.
"He just didn't get any help from the three perimeter positions," said Brown of Ewing. "If you look at the stat sheet it jumps out at you and knocks you over the head."
Brown said it was obvious Malone, "knew that CBS was televising the game." The fact that the occasion was to hype Ewing's debut guaranteed a "special performance" from his center, according to Guokas.
Malone didn't disagree, although he said he felt worn out. "The thing is, he works hard and can jump. That's a problem for a guy with age like me, keeping up with these youngsters," kidded Malone, 30, who then offered Ewing some advice.
"I can remember my first game; I knew I could play the game, I wasn't scared, I was even cocky. All Patrick should do is just come out and play his game. He doesn't have to worry about being the next Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) or Wilt (Chamberlain) or Moses. The only person he should worry about are his kids -- he should want them to grow up to be like him."
After the game (in what Knicks' management calls "Ewing opportunities"), the center looked back fondly at his regular season debut.
"I wasn't feeling any pressure, no pressure at all," Ewing said. "I think I played a pretty good game, obviously I would have liked to have won . . . I don't like to lose, I try to do my best to help my team not to lose, I don't want to get used to losing."
Ewing spent much of the exhibition season getting used to the increased jostling for position and contact that takes place in the NBA. Today, Ewing was called for only three fouls, a statistic he said was no accident.
"The refs are used to the way I play now," he said. "I knew how things were going to be in the exhibition season. Now, though, the refs won't just be calling everything against me. I've established myself."