Patrick Ewing didn't cry but couldn't wipe the smile off his face as the fans who loved and hated him for 15 years gave him a three-minute standing ovation Tuesday night in his return to Madison Square Garden.
"Pat-rick Ew-ing, Pat-rick Ewing," came the chant from the crowd of 19,763 who turned out early to make sure they were on hand for the one moment basketball fans in the city had been looking forward to since last summer when Ewing was traded.
Former teammate Mark Jackson, the newest Knick, was the first to extend a handshake and a hug prior to the opening tip, which Ewing lost to his successor at center, Marcus Camby.
Ewing got the ball in the low post on Seattle's first possession and scored easily over a smiling Camby, but the basket did not bring much of a boisterous response.
That had already happened during pre-game introductions as the crowd stood and cheered no boos were heard throughout a one-minute compilation of video highlights from Ewing's career.
The ovation continued as Ewing, who stood shifting from side to side during the highlight film, was introduced first among Seattle's starters.
The Knicks players and coaches stood and cheered, too, in one of the longest sustained ovations at the arena in recent years.
He finished with 12 points and five rebounds in 32 minutes as the Sonics lost to the Knicks 101-92.
Ewing paid a pre-game visit to the players lounge near the Knicks locker room, saying hello to various players, coaches and team officials.
He did not travel with the team from Boston to New York after their game on Monday night because his father, Carl, became ill after the Sonics-Celtics game.
A chant rang out as Ewing took layups with the Sonics seven minutes before player introductions, and many in the sellout crowd remained standing throughout warmups.
Ewing's relationship with the fans had its ups and downs over the 15 seasons he played in New York. When he was a rookie and had a bad game on Patrick Ewing Poster Night, the fans tossed their giveaways onto the court.
When he went through a tough stretch midway through the 1997-98 season, he heard some of the longest and most pronounced boos of his career.
Over his final two seasons, there would often be an audible groan in the Garden especially late in games when Ewing got the ball in one of his favorite spots and turned to shoot.
"Those who appreciated him appreciated him when he was here," coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "He prepared, fought, practiced and played to be a championship player."
Ewing never became one, though, for a variety of reasons.
The Knicks faceMichael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs five times between 1988 and 1996, losing each series. The Knicks finally made it to the finals in 1994 after Jordan retired for the first time, but lost in seven games to Houston.
In 1999, Ewing was injured when the Knicks made it to the finals and lost to San Antonio.
"Unfortunately, he ran into one of the greatest players of all time when he was in his prime, then Hakeem Olajuwon in the finals when he was at his best, then was hurt for the finals," Van Gundy said. "We were in the playoffs 10 or 11 years, we just didn't get over the hump. Most people who have struggled in life can empathize with that."
Van Gundy went over what he considered the greatest "What ifs" of the Ewing era listing a Game 3 loss to the Bulls in the 1993 Eastern Conference finals and a Game 3 loss to Houston in the 1994 NBA Finals as games in which one small factor might have made a huge difference.
"If we could have gotten one of those two," Van Gundy said. "To me that's the great what if."
The Knicks lost in the conference finals last year as Ewing played hurt in four of the six games all losses for New York. Other players wondered aloud whether the team might be better off without him, and the front office eventually decided they would.
When word of a trade surfaced last summer, one of the local tabloids ran a back-page headline reading "Good Riddance" a harsh thing to say about a player who had given a decade and a half of effort to the team.
Ewing was eventually traded to Seattle in a three-way deal that brought Glen Rice, Luc Longley and others to the Knicks. The teams already faced each other once this season a 21-point victory for the Sonics at Seattle in the eighth game of the season.
"To have already gone through it out there, it was eerie," Van Gundy said. "For me, the novelty has sort of worn off a little bit."
The novelty was still there for the fans, however, and they let it be known loud and long.
©2001 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
© 2001 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.