Knicks center Patrick Ewing celebrates his game-winning blocked shot against...

Knicks center Patrick Ewing celebrates his game-winning blocked shot against the Miami Heat in the waning moments of their Eastern Conference semifinal game on May 11, 1997, at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/Kevin Larkin

Patrick Ewing was watching Jimmy Butler knock down shot after shot Monday night when he got the urge to reach out to an old friend.

“I’m looking at Miami come back and win and Jimmy have 56 points, and I called Alonzo right after that game,” Ewing told Newsday. “And he was like, 'Man, it’s going to be like the old days.’ It’s going to be great.”

Alonzo, of course, is Alonzo Mourning, Ewing’s fellow Georgetown alum  and the Heat center that the Knicks star went head-to-head with in four straight playoff series in the 1990s. Even though the Heat and Knicks didn’t finish off their first-round opponents until Wednesday night, both Ewing and Mourning felt early in the week that the two teams were destined to play one another.

The best player to ever wear a Knicks uniform, Ewing couldn’t be more pumped to see a revival of the rivalry that meant so much to both franchises.

The Knicks and the Heat met in the playoffs from 1997-2000, with the Heat winning the first meeting and the Knicks winning the last three. The Heat were coached by Pat Riley, who had abandoned the Knicks for the Heat in the summer of 1995. The Knicks were coached by Riley protegee Jeff Van Gundy.

“There was always a great competition, always a war,” Ewing said. “Going against Coach Riley, me going against Alonzo. There was a lot of love and hate in that rivalry. Two teams that mirror each other. Pat Riley did an outstanding job of building the Knicks with Dave Checketts and then he leaves and goes to Miami. I think the respect we had for one another, that led to the physicality and the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."

Ewing loves that the team is being led by Jalen Brunson, the son of his former teammate Rick Brunson. Jalen was just a toddler back then, running around the Knicks' locker room and hanging out with Ewing at his locker.

“It’s funny. I told Jalen when I first started coaching at Georgetown that if I knew he was going to be a basketball player like this, I would have started recruiting him back then,” Ewing said of the former Villanova star. “He wouldn’t leave my locker. He was always at my locker. And then that kid kicked my butt when I was at Georgetown and he has done a good job of improving his game every day. I love the type of player he is and his mom and dad did an outstanding job of raising him.”

Ewing, who coached six seasons at Georgetown, was fired last month after going 75-109. He is now enjoying spending time with his two youngest children.

“Right now, I’m being a dad,” said Ewing, 60. “I’m taking my son to his last ball workout, daughter is going to volleyball . . . I’m waiting to see what’s going to happen with the next chapter of my life.”

In the meantime, Ewing has to think he has stepped into some kind of weird time machine as he gets pumped up for this Knicks-Heat series. Ewing is close to people on both teams. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau was an assistant coach when Ewing played for the Knicks. Both he and Thibodeau were also assistant coaches on Van Gundy’s staff in Houston.

At the same time, Ewing is a big fan of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

“The game is different. The teams are different,” Ewing said when asked to compare this rivalry to the one he participated in. “Both Erik and Thibs have done an outstanding job of getting teams to this point. I’ve known Thibs for a lot of years. We have a relationship and friendship. Erik is a great guy.

“But I bleed blue and orange. I’m looking forward to Game 1. I’m looking forward to see how things turn out, hopefully we win and move on.”


Game 1: at Knicks, Sunday, 1 p.m., ABC

Game 2: at Knicks, Tuesday, May 2, TNT (time is TBD)

Game 3: at Miami, Saturday, May 6, ABC (time is TBD)

Game 4: at Miami, Monday, May 8, 7:30 p.m., TNT

* Game 5: at Knicks, Wednesday, May 10, TNT (time is TBD)

* Game 6: at Miami, Friday, May 12, ESPN (time is TBD)

* Game 7: at Knicks, Monday, May 15, 8 p.m., TNT

Newsday LogoCovering LI news as it happensDigital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months