NEW YORK – Patrick Ewing Jr. started thinking about it Thursday, when he was leaving the Georgetown Hoyas' hotel for Madison Square Garden. He still could see his old man sitting in his stall, blue cloth robe, knees wrapped with ice, the sopping wet No. 33 Knicks jersey tossed in a laundry bin.
"I'm going to get that locker," Patrick Jr. told his teammate Jessie Sapp.
So, Patrick Jr. made sure he was the first player off the freight elevator and through the doors into the Knicks dressing room at the Garden. His father was in and out before the tournament quarterfinals and semifinals, but the kid hadn't been sure that the past tenant noticed who had moved into the second stall on the near wall.
"I saw that," Patrick Sr. bellowed late Friday night with a knowing nod. "I saw that."
After the Hoyas' 84-82 victory over Notre Dame to reach the conference championship game, no one had to tell the father that his son had earned the space. At the end of a frantic, fabulous semifinal, the end of a 15-point performance that had been the best of Patrick Jr.'s college career, Georgetown had moved within a victory Saturday over Pittsburgh of its first conference tournament title since 1989. And with that, something of an epiphany rushed over Patrick Jr.
"I wanted to cry," he said. "You never know when you're going to get to another championship game. Nothing's guaranteed."
Along the baseline, near his alma mater's bench, Patrick Sr. was the Garden's living, breathing and everlasting Shakespearean tragedy. Patrick Jr. wasn't born to see his father reach three Final Fours and win a national title in 1984 for John Thompson. For all the greatness and winning times with the Knicks, Patrick Jr. grew up with so much of his father's championship heartache at the Garden.
"I've never won any type of championship ever," Patrick Jr. said, and that's so much of what moved him against the Irish. He kept thinking that he didn't want to wake up Saturday morning thinking that he had let that chance slip away. This is the reason he left Indiana for Georgetown, a chance at honoring his family's legacy while clearing his own way. The Hoyas didn't need a savior, coach John Thompson III told him, and it was a good thing because this solid if unspectacular 6-8 junior isn't constructed to carry that load.
"I'm proud of him," Patrick Sr. said outside the locker room. As much as he loves the way his son is progressing on the floor, Patrick Sr. insisted, "The people at Georgetown have done a fantastic job helping him become a man."
When they talked about him making the move two years ago, John Thompson III told him, "You're not your father," and that he shouldn't ever waste a moment of his time on campus trying to live up to the name on the back of his jersey, the name hanging in the rafters. This year, the student sections around the conference gave him grief, chanting, "Your father's better," and Patrick Jr. just rolled his eyes and shrugged and told himself, "No kidding."
He's no more Patrick Sr. than John Thompson III is his father. Hoya Paranoia is long gone, replaced with a calmer, more methodical Princeton offense that reminds everyone that the Georgetown coach's college coach, Pete Carril, has as much of an imprint on this program as does the founding father of Georgetown basketball, John Thompson. Those close to Thompson III insist that his disposition is shaded with much more of his mother's serenity than, say, his father's bluster. Thompson III has done a terrific job of integrating his own sensibilities, his own style, into Georgetown, while still honoring the glory days.
"Having him here at the same time has really helped me," Patrick Jr. said.
Across three seasons as Hoyas coach, John Thompson III has learned to block out the bemoaning bellows of his father behind the bench. Before this year, because of his job on the Houston Rockets coaching staff, Ewing had seen just one of his son's Indiana games live. So this weekend at the Garden, Patrick Sr. parked himself between the baseline and the Hoyas bench.
"I hear him, especially since he sits right there," Patrick Jr. said, with a wry smile. "Sometimes, I wish he was sitting up in Section 300." He laughed for a moment, and soon said, "It's been great having him there. Big John is the same way. I'm like his son, too. He's in my ear half the game, and my dad is in my ear the other half the game."
When told of this later, on his way back to the locker room, his coach rolled his eyes and laughed. "He just needs to listen to me."
In the 100th year of Hoyas basketball, in the 25th year of Big East tournament basketball at the Garden, there's a symmetry to Georgetown reaching Saturday night at the Garden with a Thompson and Ewing on its side. Patrick Ewing Jr. moved into his old man's locker for the weekend, and moved up into the bright lights of Broadway.
" These are the times you show the world your ability," Patrick Sr. said late Friday night. Because if all those years at that Garden had taught him anything, it was that these championship nights never are promised, never are sure to come again. When the buzzer sounded Friday, that truth hit his son, cut him to his core and made him want to weep.