The 1990s were highlighted by some of the best center play we have ever seen. Game dominators like Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal were consistently glued to the block in a game that was much more physical and reliant on the big man. Among some of the ’90s greatest heavyweights were Patrick Ewing and David Robinson. Very similar in style of play, these guys were warriors in every single sense of the word. But which center was the better of the two? By going off what my man Kristofer Habbas has done with the point guards, let’s have a verdict by looking at the statistics, best year, playoff success, and historical effect.
STATISTICS (per game)
Ewing: 21.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 2.4 blocks, 50.4% FG%, 74.0% FT%
Robinson: 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 3.0 blocks, 51.8% FG%, 73.6 FT%
Ewing: 24,815 (16th all-time)
Robinson: 20,790 (33rd all-time)
Ewing: 11,607 (24th all-time)
Robinson: 10,497 (29th all-time)
Ewing: 2,894 (sixth all-time)
Robinson: 2,954 (fifth all-time)
When reviewing statistics, there are two things to take in to consideration: quality and quantity. With three more seasons and 196 more games played than Robinson, it is no wonder that Ewing amassed more total points and rebounds. As much as this can be viewed as an unfair advantage to Pat, you also have to give him credit for sticking it out a few extra years.
As previously mentioned, these player’s games were eerily similar. You knew every time you had to play the Spurs or Knicks, you would be entering the paint at your own risk. By taking a look at the per game statistics you can see how evenly matched they were. Robinson barely one-upped Ewing in every category except for free throw percentage, where he was only .4% away. This is where the twilight of Ewing’s career came back to haunt him. It is nearly impossible to put up the same numbers at age 39 as you did while you were in your prime. If Ewing never suited up in those hideous green and red Sonics jerseys, or dabbled with the Orlando Magic for a year, then it is quite possible that their per-game averages would be much more similar.
Despite Ewing’s marks on the all-time list, Robinson put together the better quality of stats. Had the Admiral played 196 more games, according to his averages he would have 588 more blocks, 4,135 more points and 2,077 more rebounds. This would be enough to get him to second all-time in blocks, 17th all-time in rebounds, and once again one-upping Ewing to 15th all-time in points.
Advantage: David Robinson
Ewing (1989-90): 28.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 4.0 blocks, 55.1%
FG%, 77.5% FT%,
Robinson (1994-95): 27.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 3.2 blocks, 53.0% FG%, 77.4% FT%
With so many magnificent seasons to choose from, picking the best year from each of these two Hall of Fame careers was not a simple task.
Ewing’s best season witnessed him play a full 82-game slate and average a career high 4.0 blocks. That year, the Ewing-led Knicks finished 3rd in their division, earning them the 5th seed and a first round matchup against the majestic Boston Celtics. After falling down 2-0, the Knicks stormed back to win the five game series, riding 27-year-old Ewing’s playoff averages of 29.4 points and 10.5 rebounds. The eventual NBA champion Detroit Pistons then ousted the Knicks in the next round, but despite this disappointment, Ewing had an MVP-caliber season.
David Robinson’s only MVP season came in 1994-95. Led by Robinson, the Spurs achieved a then-best franchise record at 62-20. Obtaining a No. 1 seed, the Spurs breezed through the Nuggets in the first round and took down the Lakers in six the next round before being dropped by Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.
Because the only MVP between these two studs went to Robinson, we have to give him the nod in the best year department.
Advantage: David Robinson
Ewing: 139 games, 5,207 minutes, team record: 81-72, team series record: 17-14, team Finals record: 0-2
Robinson: 123 games, 4,221 minutes, team record: 74-58, team series record: 17-11, team Finals record: 2-0
Had Patrick Ewing been healthy enough to give it a go in the 1999 Finals, this portion would have been solved rather easily. However, injuries were detrimental to Ewing late in his career as he finished it playing 139 out of his team’s 153 playoff games.
In the 1996-97 season, injury caused David Robinson to play only six games. Unexpectedly, it turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to his career. The following offseason, the Spurs drafted Wake Forest product Tim Duncan. The twin towers went on to rule the NBA in the twilight of the Admiral’s career. Instead of being known as yet another victim of Michael Jordan‘s dominance, Robinson was able to retire on top as a two-time NBA champion. This late career playoff dominance gives the Admiral the edge in playoff success.
Advantage: David Robinson
So all of the statistics point towards Robinson being the better player, but what about the lasting impressions these guys left on our memories?
Being a part of New York City sure helped Ewing’s legacy, as he is currently the top player in Knick franchise history. Despite being coached by Pat Riley, one of the league’s finest defensive minds, Ewing never really had an amazing supporting cast around him. John Starks, Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason and company were beasts when it came to team defense, but I’m sure a young, energetic Tim Duncan would have worked wonders for the end of Ewing’s career.
Robinson, despite being one of the best centers of this era, was often overshadowed by Olajuwon, Shaq and Ewing in popularity. Good thing the NBA is not a popularity contest. His defensive intimidation and solid fundamentals made him one of the most feared seven footers to ever play the game. Had he been playing in a major market, perhaps his game would be more celebrated.
Advantage: Patrick Ewing
Despite taking three out of the four categories, the gap between these players is very miniscule. A little more playoff success might have given Ewing the upper hand but in the NBA, it’s hard to argue with hardware.
Winner: David Robinson
Which player would you have rather had?
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