“We were fierce competitors,” [Patrick] Ewing said Saturday. “When Hakeem and I faced up, we wanted to kill each other.”
Ewing was only half-laughing.
Their careers have been intertwined, from college to the NBA. There is more respect between them than reverence, however.
Dwight Howard, innocently enough, has stepped right into the Ewing-Olajuwon rivalry to learn the game from two of the game’s best big men.
Ewing has had Howard under his considerable wing-span for the last three seasons as a Magic assistant coach.
Olajuwon cut in, so to speak. He contacted Howard during the playoffs and a relationship blossomed, leading to Dwight training five three-hour days with Olajuwon this summer.
If Ewing is bothered by either Howard seeking another big-man guru or by Olajuwon’s unsolicited advice, he doesn’t show it. [...]
Ewing said all that matters is growing Howard’s game and keeping him on the hall-of-fame path already traveled by Pat and Hakeem.
This article was going to come, sooner or later. Once it became know that Dwight Howard worked out with Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston during the off-season for a week, one of the first questions asked was ‘what does Patrick Ewing think about this?’
Ewing, of course, is the assistant coach of the Orlando Magic and has been Howard’s mentor, of sorts, for the past three years. And any hardcore NBA fan knows that Ewing and Olajuwon have a history with each other — most notably in the 1994 NBA Finals, when Ewing’s New York Knicks faced off against Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets. The Rockets won the series in seven games and for Ewing, it would be the closest he’d get to winning a championship. So, in a way, it makes sense for someone to think that Ewing would disapprove of Howard working with Olajuwon. The rationale being that Ewing’s competitive edge would blind him to the idea of a competitor, a rival in the ’90s, helping one of his players. It’s encroachment. Yet at the same time, that line of thinking doesn’t make much sense. It’s Howard’s choice. Ewing is irrelevant in this conversation.
To be frank, Dan Savage of OrlandoMagic.com said it best about Ewing:
He wants Dwight Howard to improve his game as much as any other coach on the Magic and he’s encouraged Dwight, he’s helped Dwight reach out to these people, so I don’t think there’s any sort of controversy there between Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon. Patrick Ewing wants what’s best for Dwight Howard, he wants what’s best for this team and ultimately, I think Patrick wants to be a head coach in this league and the best way for Patrick to become a head coach in this league is for the Magic to win a championship and the best way for the Magic to win a championship is for Dwight Howard to become the best player he can be.
Which is why, for Magic fans, it’s reassuring to see that Ewing doesn’t mind that Howard sought out to learn from another teacher. In the end, it makes all too much sense in the world.