One of the better NBA rivalries of the 1990s was the Chicago Bulls versus the New York Knicks. Not only were both teams championship-caliber as a whole, but it allowed fans the opportunity to see Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing go toe-to-toe.
The Jordan and Ewing rivalry dates back to their college days at North Carolina and Georgetown, respectively. Then things heated up when MJ’s Bulls and Pat’s Knicks matched up against one another over the years. So being the competitors they are, it’s only fitting that Ewing would express his extreme displeasure when Jordan decided to retire.
Michael Jordan dominated his rivalry with Patrick Ewing
Greats like Isiah Thomas and Charles Barkley only had to deal with Michael Jordan in the NBA. However, Ewing was one of the few who experienced MJ’s greatness as a college student.
Before the countless battles at Madison Square Garden and Chicago Stadium, Ewing and Jordan met at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans for the 1982 National Championship. The thrilling game was capped off by Jordan’s epic game-winner with 17 seconds remaining to knock off the Hoyas 63-62.
The two college stars ended up becoming pros one year apart. Jordan entered the league as the third overall pick in 1984, while Ewing became the top pick one year later. They wound up seeing each other often, competing in 43 regular-season games from 1986 to 2001.
But the rivalry between these two Hall of Famers was built in the playoffs. Between 1989 and 1996, MJ’s Bulls and Ewing’s Knicks met five times in the postseason. And while Pat was solid in those 27 games, averaging 22.4 points and 10.8 rebounds, Jordan’s 33.1 points per contest helped carry Chicago to five series victories.
New York did manage to sneak one victory in there, eliminating its foe in seven games during the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 1994. But at the same time, Michael was enjoying life as a minor league baseball player, a year removed from his shocking retirement.
Ewing was upset when Jordan retired
As he went 13-30 against Jordan in the regular season and 8-19 in the playoffs, you’d think Ewing would be relieved when his rival called it quits. But when Michael left the NBA in 1993, the Knicks big man was far from happy.
“When Michael left, I told him that I wanted him to stay,” Ewing said via the New York Times in 1995, just days before Jordan announced his return. “I wanted him to be there when we won a championship. Years from now, I didn’t want people saying, ‘Well you guys won a championship, but he wasn’t there.'”
Ironically, Ewing’s best chance at a title came in 1994 when Jordan was retired. But New York fell to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets, who went back-to-back without ever having to face His Airness in the playoffs.
Jordan made the Knicks an all-time ‘what if’
In hindsight, it would be interesting to hear how Ewing now feels about Jordan’s decision to come back and win three more titles. Especially since it came at the cost of the Knicks ever reaching the promised land.
New York made the playoffs with Ewing every season from 1988 to 2000. But all it managed to show for it was two Finals appearances in 1994 and 1999, two years Jordan was out of the NBA. Meanwhile, MJ eliminated the Knicks five times, one of which was in an Eastern Conference Finals.
If Ewing and the Knicks played in any other era, it’s possible they could have won a title or two. But thanks to the GOAT, all New York gets are thoughts about what could have been.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.