NEW YORK -- Patrick Ewing always promised one day to hoist a championship banner inside Madison Square Garden. Never before has such a moment appeared so remote.
Now, the Knicks are praying Ewing will once again have the ability to shoot one of his patented jump shots.
The Knicks' title dreams for this season unofficially expired early yesterday morning in a Manhattan hospital when Ewing underwent season-ending surgery to repair torn ligaments and a dislocated bone in his right wrist.
Team physician Dr. Norman Scott said Ewing will be in a cast for two months before he can start rehabilitation. He would not speculate as to how long Ewing will be out or whether or not his wrist will completely heal.
"We're cautiously optimistic that he's going to do well," Scott said yesterday in a conference call. "We're in uncharted waters. Quite honestly, it may be late spring or early summer before we know for sure. In fairness to Patrick, we want to be optimistic."
Ewing, 35, who signed a four-year, $68 million contract extension last summer, was recovering at Beth Israel Hospital North Division yesterday and was unavailable for comment. He is not expected to be released for another two days. Coach Jeff Van Gundy joined Ewing at the hospital and spoke to the 11-time All-Star before and after the surgery. He described Ewing as depressed but also said he appeared "determined."
"That's the one word I would use," Van Gundy said. "He's determined to get back. I think his work ethic will allow him to rehabilitate as much as possible."
Ewing's work ethic has helped him be a productive player for 12-plus seasons. However, he will turn 36 in August and has been bothered by chronic soreness in both knees the past two seasons.
"I feel badly for everybody in the organization, but I feel really bad for Patrick," said Van Gundy, who is as close to Ewing as any of the Knicks.
"Here's a guy who has done everything that a champion is supposed to do. I feel badly that a season that he put so much into was cut short by something so freakish."
Ewing needed two hours of surgery to repair torn ligaments and reset the lunate bone, one of eight bones in the wrist, at 4:30 a.m. yesterday.
Scott met the Knicks' charter plane at Westchester and immediately brought Ewing to the city to be re-evaluated.
The surgery was performed by Scott's wife, Dr. Susan Craig Scott, and Dr. Charles Melone. Both physicians performed wrist surgery on Allan Houston last spring and the guard was playing within three months.
However, Norman Scott cautioned that the injuries are not similar.
"The bone was totally out of position," Norman Scott said. "I was glad we got to him within six hours of the injury because the bone was truly out of place and pressing against the nerve."
The surgery was done immediately to prevent nerve damage, he said.
Norman Scott added that in his 20 years of treating pro athletes, it was the first time he'd seen a basketball player of Ewing's caliber suffer such a devastating injury. He called it a "a football or motor vehicle type of injury. It's a high-speed, high-force type of injury."
Ewing, who had missed only 20 games over the past 10 years, suffered the damage when he crashed to the floor with 24.9 seconds left in the first half of a loss to the Bucks on Saturday night in Milwaukee.
He had jumped to catch an alley-oop from Charlie Ward and fell awkwardly on his shooting hand after Bucks center Andrew Lang shoved him hard in the chest. Almost immediately, Ewing knew he was in serious trouble.
He managed to go to the foul line. But he shot with his left hand, missing both attempts.
"It's killing me," Ewing said late Saturday night. "There was so much pain. I've hurt it before, but never like this."
Team president Ernie Grunfeld, who spent millions to structure a title contender around the center, was clearly shocked by the day's events.
"It's a definite blow to our ballclub," Grunfeld said. "But our immediate thoughts are with Patrick right now.
"We expect to have him back next year. A lot depends on his rehab and how that goes along. But I don't think there's a center out there who can fill the void for Patrick Ewing."
As of now, Grunfeld said there are no plans to acquire a center or low-post scorer. The Knicks enter tonight's game against the Dallas Mavericks at 15-11 and in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, and their chances of reaching the postseason for the 11th consecutive year are in jeopardy.
Patrick Ewing is the seventh prominent NBA player to miss time with an injury this season:
Player, team .................. Injury
Penny Hardaway, Orl. .......... knee
A. Mourning, Mia. ............. knee
H. Olajuwon, Hou. ............. knee
S. O'Neal, LAL ................ abdomen
Scottie Pippen, Chi. .......... foot
John Stockton, Utah ........... knee
Pub Date: 12/22/97