While New York Knicks fans haven’t had a great deal to cheer about in recent years, things were a bit different in the 1990s. With guys like Patrick Ewing and John Starks on the floor and Pat Riley calling shots from the bench, the Big Apple club became a dominant force in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks might not have won a title—they were going up against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls—but they still live on in the hearts and minds of New Yorkers.
Ewing’s legacy might have suffered a bit at the hands of His Airness, but the Knicks big man still did alright for himself. In addition to establishing himself as an NBA legend, the center made almost $120 million during his time in the pros.
Patrick Ewing’s road to the NBA
In the minds of most basketball fans, it’s impossible to see Patrick Ewing as anything other than a New York Knick. The big man, however, posted an impeccable college career before ever turning pro.
Coming out of high school, Ewing almost headed to the University of Carolina. On a campus visit, however, the combination of a nearby KKK rally and noisy crickets—the big man didn’t like hearing insects when he was trying to sleep—gave him pause. Instead, he committed to Georgetown, changing the course of basketball history.
Rather than teaming up with Michael Jordan in Chapel Hill, the center made an immediate impact in Washington, D.C. He averaged 12.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as a freshman, helping the Hoyas reach the NCAA title game; they lost to UNC, with Jordan himself hitting the game-winning jumper. Despite losing out, Ewing and Georgetown would claim the national championship two years later.
While he only won that one title, Ewing posted one of the greatest college careers we’ve ever seen. He averaged 15.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game during his four years on campus; he also appeared in three NCAA Tournament finals and claimed three Big East Tournament crowns before graduation.
Becoming a star with the New York Knicks
Heading into the 1985 NBA draft, Patrick Ewing seemed like a lock for the first overall pick. In controversial circumstances, the New York Knicks won the league’s first draft lottery; they went on to use that selection to land the Georgetown big man.
Whether David Stern froze an envelope or not, Ewing made an instant impact with the Knicks. The center only played 50 games during his first professional campaign, but he still averaged 20 points and nine rebounds per night cruising to the NBA Rookie of the Year title.
With each passing season, Ewing improved, and, before long, Knicks returned to the playoffs. They became a fixture in the Eastern Conference Finals, but couldn’t get past Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls; the club would make it to the NBA Finals during Jordan’s first retirement, but fell at the last hurdle, losing to the Houston Rockets.
After losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 NBA Finals, Ewing’s time in New York ended with a trade to the Seattle SuperSonics. After spending one season in the Pacific Northwest and another with the Orlando Magic, the big man finally called it a career. While he never won a ring, he played almost 1,200 games in the association, averaging 21 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
Patrick Ewing never won an NBA title, but he made plenty of money
While it was unfortunate that Patrick Ewing couldn’t win an NBA championship, that was the reality of life in the 1990s. The big man’s success, however, was still rewarded with plenty of money.
As the first overall pick of the 1985 NBA draft, Ewing signed a massive 10-year, $32 million deal with the Knicks. By the time that contract expired, the financial reality of professional sports had changed; the big man’s salary increased, and he would make more than $100 million in total by the time he left New York.
According to Spotrac’s financial data, Ewing then earned $14 million in with the Seattle SuperSonics before adding a bit more pocket change in Orlando to bring his total NBA earnings to just over $118 million. He’s now serving as Georgetown’s basketball coach, which, according to Sports Illustrated, pays somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million per season.
It goes without saying that every professional athlete wants to win a championship. Earning $118 million, however, isn’t a bad consolation prize.