Most former NBA players simply go through the motions in order to receive a head coaching position. After a stellar playing career, all that's needed for most is a couple of seasons on an esteemed proven coach's bench to gain experience. After putting in the time, most men get an opportunity.
That hasn't been the case, however, for Patrick Ewing, perhaps the greatest New York Knicks player of all-time. Though Ewing has been an assistant coach for nearly ten years (having started in the 2002-03 season with the Washington Wizards), the legendary big man still has not been given the chance by an NBA team.
Ewing has surely gained a plethora of experience, learning under head coaches like Jeff Van Gundy, Doug Collins, and most recently, Stan Van Gundy, over the years. He's also done impressive work with some of the league's top players over this same time period, elevating the play of centers like Yao Ming and Dwight Howard.
Still, as much of an impact as he has made, it may be Ewing's very work with various big men that has limited his head coaching opportunities to date. Most former NBA player-coaches come from a long list of deserving point guards because they are used to leading teams after being floor generals on the court. As a former center, many executives believe coaches like Ewing are simply best suited mentoring the younger big men in today's league.
Nevertheless, Ewing is looking to break that trend. As it just so happens, he's not the first to attempt to do so. His former Knicks teammate and current New York assistant coach Herb Williams told Knicks Journal this past February, “People forget I’ve done the head-coaching thing before. I was head coach of the Knicks. I’m certainly no point guard coach, but I like to do a little of everything. Wherever I can step in and add my knowledge of the game, I’ll do it. I like talking to the guards, our big men—everybody. It’s important [former centers like him] don’t pigeon-hole themselves into only being able to mentor one type of player.”
Having just interviewed for the Bobcats' head coaching post on Thursday, Ewing may get the chance to prove he's more than a big men's coach very soon. Though he's gotten interviews in past years, he may indeed have an edge on this position. In addition to being Ewing's good friend and former on-the-court nemesis, Charlotte owner Michael Jordan actually hired Ewing for his first assistant coaching job with the Wizards. Jordan subsequently played on those Washington teams for which Ewing served on the coaching staff as well.
Jordan knows full-well how much fire is in Ewing's competitive spirit. Clearly in rebuilding mode, it wouldn't take much from Ewing to help improve the Bobcats after the team posted the worst record in NBA history this past season. Even so, Ewing's skill and knowledge for the game would certainly go a long way towards working with Charlotte's young talent. Having already mentored his son (Patrick Ewing Jr.) towards becoming an NBA player, it's likely the senior would have ways of motivating and connecting with the players.
Could Ewing finally be getting his chance to be at the head of the bench? With little to lose but a lot to gain, Jordan and his Bobcats would receive a lot of praise for being the franchise to finally give the Knicks legend a chance, should things go well.
According to the New York Post, Warriors top assistant Michael Malone, the Grizzlies' Dave Joerger, the Cavs' Nate Tibbetts, and even St. John's University coach Mike Dunlap have all previously interviewed for the job as well. Current team assistant Stephen Silas is also said to garner consideration.
Could Ewing's tenth season as NBA coach be the one during which he finally leads his own team? Time will tell, but with Jordan already in his corner, this may be very well be the best shot Ewing ever gets.