Patrick Ewing nearly missed 1984 Olympics after neck injury in wrestling match with Michael Jordan


We saw the Olympic debuts of future Hall of Famers and 1992 Dream Team teammates Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin in the 1984 Olympic games. One of those names, however, suffered an injury in a bizarre way during the Olympic trials that nearly had him sent home, thanks to his interactions with another one of those stars.

According to basketball writer Doug Haller, who explored some notable stories from the 1984 Olympic trials, a friendly (if a little irresponsible) wrestling match between Jordan and Ewing almost resulted in the latter's dismissal from the team.

"(Bobby) Knight wants to send Ewing home," assistant coach C.M. Newton told Digger Phelps, who was a close friend of Knight and was traveling with the team. "They were wrestling in their room and Ewing has a twisted neck."

Now, I know just how athletic and competitive Michael Jordan is. But if those two are wrestling, I'm taking Ewing ten times out of ten. It's simply a matter of a 6-foot-6, 198-pound frame (which was probably much slimmer then) against a 7-foot, 240-pound build. Somehow, though, it was Ewing who came out with the twisted neck, and that was enough that the always-intense Knight wanted him out.

Haller recounts that Knight started ripping into Ewing as well as his Georgetown coach, John Thompson, and was highly skeptical that Ewing could play as they watched him work gingerly through warmups. But three times, Phelps coolly told Knight that they needed Ewing in order to succeed. Lo and behold, Ewing made the roster and was a force to be reckoned with, finishing third in points per game (11.0) and second in rebounds per game (5.6).

A player who did not receive Knight's benefit of the doubt — or Phelps' blessing, perhaps — was Charles Barkley, who said he was "the second-best player by far" but was cut along with Karl Malone, John Stockton and other notable names.

Luckily for Ewing, he survived and helped Knight to capture his only Olympic gold medal.

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