David Halberstam was not a sports writer but he wrote about sports often. He was rarely vicious which makes this Page 2 column on Patrick Ewing stand out:
Well, how great a player was Patrick Ewing?
First, let me stipulate one critical ground rule: I do not believe that you have to win a championship to be a great player. There are — especially from the days before free agency, when a player had less control over his career — great players who never had the right players around them, and therefore did not win rings. Jerry West was a great player, and near the end of his career he finally and deservedly won a championship. But if Wilt Chamberlain had not leveraged his muscle into forcing a trade to Los Angeles, West might easily have finished his career kingless.
Still, I most emphatically do not think Ewing was a great player. His statistics are awesome, he will surely make the Hall of Fame, and I know for a fact that he is listed among the league’s 50 all-time best players included in the book published by the league itself on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. After all, I wrote the forward.
Is he a very good player? I guess so. The Knicks in the years of his prime were always going to be respectable, though they were never going to surprise anyone. In the end, I came to hate watching them play: It was all so heavy and slow and predictable. I find him the most puzzling of players, talented, hard-working and, in the end, limited.
Ewing was a great player in college and if he wasn’t a great pro, he was damn close, flaws and all.