LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Patrick Ewing sees the parallels between then and now.
For 13 straight seasons, Ewing averaged at least 20 points. He was a
superstar, the toast of New York, the city's biggest star when he was
the face of the Knicks' franchise. During the stretch when Ewing was at
his peak, his combination of points, rebounds and blocked shots made him
unquestionably one of the game's elite.
"When I played, it was mostly one superstar per team," Ewing said.
And that, in the end, was a problem for Ewing. For as good as he was
-- not to mention the likes of Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins,
George Gervin and many others -- his enormous talent never carried him
to an NBA championship.
He sees the league heading back that way now. When LeBron James left
Miami last week for a return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the power
structure of the league shifted as well. And while there's obviously a
team loaded with future Hall of Famers in San Antonio, and plenty of
teams with two players worthy of at least superstar argument, there's
nothing now that can mirror what the Heat had when James, Dwyane Wade
and Chris Bosh were teammates.
James' latest decision also gives Cleveland a better chance to win a title.
But like Ewing, Barkley and plenty of others know, a more-balanced
playing field across the NBA means many other teams figure to have a
better chance as well.
"There's a lot of money being given today and there's a lot of teams
with more great players than there were in the past," said Paul Silas,
James' first coach in Cleveland. "I like seeing that. I really like to
see the teams fight against each other and having more than one have a
chance to win the whole thing."
Welcome to the new NBA.
Or, rather, the updated NBA.
Sure, 16 teams go to the playoffs, but really, how many were
legitimate title contenders last season? The entire season a year ago
seemed like Indiana and Miami were preordained to meet in the Eastern
Conference finals -- and that's exactly what happened. James changes
sides, a few other moves get made, and now there's probably a half-dozen
teams in the East alone thinking they'll be good enough to be one of
the last two teams standing next June.
Ask NBA executives, many of whom aren't upset to see Miami's
stranglehold as East favorites come to an end, and they say it's all a
good thing for the game.
"Much more competitive this year," Knicks President Phil Jackson
said. "The East last year, I thought until the very end when the Knicks
made a run, Toronto got going, Washington got going, there were a lot of
teams languishing under or around .500. But I think this year, more
talent's spread around the East and I think it's going to be very
The comparison might be what happened 20 years ago. Chicago was
playing without Michael Jordan, who was beginning his retirement to play
baseball, so the Bulls' three-year run as NBA champions was widely
expected to end. San Antonio's David Robinson and Orlando's Shaquille
O'Neal were the league's best two scorers that season, and neither made
it out of the first round of the playoffs.
Ewing and the Knicks found their way past the Bulls -- still plenty
good with Scottie Pippen -- and into the NBA Finals, where the MVP that
season, Hakeem Olajuwon, was waiting.
The Rockets were deeper. They won in seven games, denying Ewing what was his best chance at that ring.
The lesson: Even superstars know the best team probably gets it done.
And in the East right now, who that best team is obviously up for much debate.
"Teams have the ability to have two (superstars) now," Ewing said.
"We don't know what the collective bargaining agreement is going to be,
with the new TV money coming in, what's going to happen. We'll see what