On a night when the Knicks reconnect with their history, they will be on the verge of repeating a dubious part of it. One more loss for the present Knicks (28-41) will make it eight straight losing seasons, which ties the longest run of futility in franchise history.
Patrick Ewing stared off into the distance when he considered just how long it's been since the Knicks were considered among the NBA's elite, a level earned by Ewing from many buckets of sweat and bags of ice during his 15-year career in New York.
"I'm speechless; I'm at a loss for words," he said. "I didn't know it was that bad. But I'm on the other side now, so we need the wins . . . All I can do is wish them the best."
Ewing, an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic, will be among several greats honored by the Knicks in a halftime ceremony during tonight's game against the Magic. The team will name its greatest players of each decade in franchise history, which is an initiative by president Donnie Walsh to celebrate the legacy of the franchise and re-establish a connection to the past that had been lost in recent years.
"What do they say? 'To know your future, you have to know your past,'" Ewing said. "I think it's great."
He added that during his playing days, he always enjoyed having Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe and others around the Garden. He felt an immediate kinship to the greats of the past, who encouraged him from the very beginning to carry the torch.
"They accomplished what I was trying to accomplish. They won two championships, they were great players and I wanted to be just like them," Ewing said. "I think it does mean a lot for [the franchise] to try to bring all the great players that have come through there back into the fold. And there have been a lot of great players."
One in particular is Bernard King. He had a torrid, though short-lived, run as one of the NBA's most prolific scorers with the Knicks in the 1980s and was the easy choice to represent that decade.
King, who lives in Atlanta, is rarely seen at the Garden anymore. He had a bitter departure in 1987, when then-GM Al Bianchi opted not to re-sign him after King suffered a major knee injury. King went on to regain his all-star status with the Washington Bullets. But in his heart, he always remained a Knick.
And to this day, he still wonders what might have been.
"Ewing and I have talked about that privately," King recently told Newsday. "If we had the chance to play together, we would have won a title."
Notes & quotes: Frazier (1970s), Reed (1960s), Richie Guerin (1950s) and Carl Braun (1940s) round out the legends to be celebrated, along with Dick McGuire, a Knicks lifer who has served as player, coach and scout for more than 50 years . . . While honoring the eras is something Walsh hopes will become a tradition, it likely will be at least another decade before a number is hoisted to the Garden rafters to join the other legends. But there has been some thought as to whether that distinction is long overdue for Nat "Sweetwater" Clif ton, the first African-American to play in an NBA game . . . The Knicks named a community assist award after Clifton and recently introduced the Dave DeBusschere Award, which is to honor high school basketball players who excel on the court and in the classroom. Nominations, which can be submitted at www.nyknicks.com under "In the Community," will be accepted through March 31. One boy and one girl will be chosen and the winners will be presented April 8 at the Garden.