Weak as Oak: What We've Learned From the Charles Oakley-Patrick Ewing Feud

Charles Oakley has finally stepped over the line.
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For some in this town, there is nothing Charles Oakley could ever say or do that would lessen his standing in their eyes.

And really, who could blame those who will continue to admire him through thick and thin? If Patrick Ewing was the heart of the 90's Knicks and Starks was their soul, Oakley was the skin that housed both. Aside from having to move through him to get to any of the vital organs that kept the body alive, he was everywhere you needed him to be whenever you needed him to be there, whether that was under the basket grabbing a board, at the elbow hitting his reliable jumper, or flying out of bounds for a loose ball.

(I mean, really...could anybody be more New York than the guy who forced the league to change their rules because he cared so very little about his physical well-being? In a town where people would throw themselves in front of a moving subway car if they thought it would help them get a promotion, Oakley's dives into the third row ingratiated him into the good graces of Knick fans more than anything)

If you fall into this camp, #Respect. There's something admirable about sticking with a guy, even after he's seemingly gone out of his way to make you ditch him.

With Oakley's most recent comments to Marc Berman the New York Post about his former teammate and captain, that's exactly what he appears to be doing. Patrick Ewing, unsurprisingly, is taking the high road, saying he loves Oak and still considers him one of his best teammates.

The dichotomy we saw over the past week was much like the one we saw when Oakley and Ewing shared the court. Ewing was always the consummate pro, perhaps to his detriment during times when a little extra nastiness wouldn't have been the worst thing for him personally. Oak, on the other hand, had no time or energy to dedicate to such decorum. Then, as now, his greatest gift is also his greatest curse.

It's not that what Oakley said is necessarily wrong. Sure, there were some double-teams Patrick probably should have passed out of, but he made his fair share of massive buckets, and there isn't a superstar in NBA history that hasn't repeatedly pressed the issue.

And that's the real reason these comments finally push Oakley over the edge of surly and into the valley of mere petty bitterness. Patrick Ewing was a Superstar, capital S, in every sense of the word. Six times Ewing finished in the top-five in MVP voting, or the same number as Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Bernard King and Carmelo Anthony combined for as Knicks. 

Was he an impersonator to Jordan's Beyonce? Sure...but so were Karl Malone, Clyde Drexler, John Stockton, David Robinson, Dominique Wilkins, Alonzo Mourning, Reggie Miller, Gary Payton, Dikembe Mutumbo and Chris Mullin, just to name a few Hall of Famers who Jordan vanquished when they crossed paths in their primes. Even Magic stood no chance in '91. Hakeem never had the opportunity to take his shot, but who's to say how that would have gone? Barkley is the only one who really went toe to toe, and still he lost, just like everyone else.

But finishing a distant second to Jordan is about as shameful as getting knocked out by Ali or getting taken deep by the Babe, and just like getting into that ring or tossing your best fastball, going toe to toe with Jordan in the first place is something so few did that anyone who even tried is deserving of nothing but the highest of praise.

Ewing tried...and tried and tried and tried again. He always came up short, and if we're being honest, probably never came all that close. The one Game 7 New York took Chicago to was a blowout - a 29-point victory for the Bulls spurred by 42 from Jordan. Ewing had 22 and nine that night. Oakley didn't make a field goal.

Here's the point: taking pot shots at Patrick Ewing is easy. Actually being Patrick Ewing, knowing that the guy standing in your way was perhaps the greatest team-sport athlete who ever lived, was hard. But Ewing did it, and never once complained about the fact that while his nemesis had Pippen, and Malone had Stockton, and Barkley had KJ, and Payton had Kemp, and Zo had Larry (and then Timmy), Patrick's best teammate - the guy now crushing him - was a dude who averaged 10 points a game.

It would have been so easy for Ewing to point that out this week, but he didn't. As usual, he's stronger than anyone gives him credit for.

Charles Oakley, meanwhile, is now in a position no one would have ever imagined for him.

His argument is weak.