What is the Ewing Theory?

Updated: 4/28/2022
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The Ewing Theory was proposed by Bill Simmons, "the Sports Guy" on ESPN. It states that teams are often better when playing without the person considered to be their greatest player. The theory started when Simmons and his friend felt that the Georgetown Hoyas and later the New York Knicks played better when Patrick Ewing was on the bench. Simmons considered his theory confirmed when the Knicks upset the Pacers in a playoff series after Ewing got hurt. Simmons then pointed out other examples, such as the Dolphins won a playoff game after Dan Marino retired, and the Seattle Mariners had their greatest season after Alex Rodriguez left. Looking back at the instances Simmons' highlights, though, tells a somewhat different story.

The Knicks, Dolphins, and Mariners were all perennial playoff teams with Ewing, Marino, and Alex Rodriguez. In the 7 years since Simmons published his article citing these clubs as proofs of the Ewing Theory, none of these teams has won a single playoff series.

At the end of Ewing's tenure with the Knicks, many were arguing that the Knicks would be a great team again as soon as they got rid of Ewing. The Ewing Theory remains popular among The Sports Guy's fans. It may indeed identify a certain short term effect that sometimes occurs, perhaps with statistical significance. But as a long term effect, it does not appear to be a theory that general managers should adopt. [Note: In Simmons' biggest proof, the Knicks' victory over the Pacers in 1999, it should be pointed out that: -- The Knicks stole home court advantage in that series when Ewing led the Knicks to a game 1 victory in Indiana -- The 8th seeded Knicks reached that series after Ewing led them to a historic upset of the top seeded Heat, and then to an upset sweep of the Hawks -- The miraculous run of 3 wins in 4 games that proved the theory included 3 games in New York

-- The Ewing Effect ended abruptly when the Knicks needed a big guy to stop the team from getting humiliated by the Spurs -- As mentioned above, the Knicks haven't won a playoff series in the 7 years since Ewing's departure. Leaving one to wonder whether an opposite Ewing Theory has in fact been established: "Losing your best player often makes you a bad team for many years, especially if that player was covering for historically incompetent management."

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Q: What is the Ewing Theory?
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