Patrick Ewing has filed for an arbitration hearing against th New York Knicks that could result in his becoming a free agent and possibly leaving the team after next season.
The move abruptly ends speculation that the Knicks and their franchise center are close to an amicable resolution of differences over Ewing's contract.
Ewing's lawyer, David Falk, and Knicks officials said Ewing turned down a new contract that would have made him the highest-paid player in team sports, exceeding the $5.3 million a year contract extension that Roger Clemens signed with the Boston Red Sox earlier this year.
Why would Ewing turn down such a huge offer? Is he trying to find a way of getting out of a team that may never find the complementary players to help him win a title?
"Patrick wants freedom of choice before he makes a commitment to New York for the rest of his career," Falk said.
At issue is a clause in the $32 million, 10-year contract that Ewing signed on Sept. 18, 1985, which allows him to become a restricted free agent after his sixth year if he is not among the four highest-paid players in the league.
As a restricted free agent, Ewing would be free to negotiate with other teams, but the Knicks would retain the right to match any offer.
The Knicks contend that Ewing, who would earn $3.138 million next season under his contract, is the fourth highest-paid player, behind John "Hot Rod" Williams of the Cleveland Cavaliers ($4 million), Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets ($3.498 million) and Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls ($3.25 million). But Ewing's lawyer, Falk, said, "There are at least two other players who will earn more."
Falk refused to name those players yesterday, saying "it will be for the arbitrator to decide."
Depending on how the arbitrator views the issue, Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics could be one of them. Bird will be paid $7.1 million next season with part of the money coming from the signing bonus that he deferred when he re-signed with the Celtics two years ago.
But Knicks President Dave Checketts asserted that signing bonuses and deferred income were not part of the computation in Ewing's contract that would determine whether he is the fourth-highest player. Only his salary counts.