I’m not sure what Charlie Ward’s legacy is supposed to be. His backup for much of his career, Chris Childs, made number 33 on this list with his swagger and a fierce right cross; Ward, the starter, rates just one spot higher. He started every game for an Eastern Conference champion, played nine full seasons with the Knicks, and even won the 1993 Heisman Trophy as a quarterback at Florida State, yet Charlie Ward remembered…well, he’s not very well remembered at all, is he?
Part of it is that he doesn’t seem to particularly care about being remembered. In a Knick era of outsized personalities and – though Childs has faded into retirement, as a player he was right up there with Mason, Oakley, Sprewell, even Ewing when he got excited – Ward was always a cool head, urging his teammates to move forward and focus on the task at hand. His faith in God was evident in the way he played; it was never about the individual, always the team and its goals, and his steady hand on the court suggested he was always saving his real emotions for the more important things in life.
The other part, I think, is what an unspectacular player he was. Ward had only two seasons with a PER over 15 (the benchmark for a league-average starter) and it took him a few years just to gain the confidence to shoot when left open. He wasn’t much of a dribble penetrator, and came to epitomize the Knicks’ ground-and-pound style by backing down the better defensive point guards just to get the ball over midcourt. And yet I don’t think those teams get as far without him at the helm, just giving that little bit of extra help his superstars needed every single night, without fail.
So maybe I don’t how were supposed to remember him, but I know how I remember him. Here are a few latent Ward thoughts:
1) The God Squad. Pretty entertaining as a 13 year-old, but I can only imagine the humor I would derive from a present-day revival of a religious sect that subtly divided the locker room and possibly alienated a team’s superstar. (Ewing reportedly never came around on it, leading the team pastor to comment, “I like to think that Ewing knew what was going on.” Sure he did.)
2) Ward gave me my first introduction to the idea that good teams always seem to have a point guard who can nail wide open spot-up threes that really put the dagger in the opposition. Since then we’ve seen Tim Hardaway, Derek Fisher, Chauncey Billups (in another life), Jason Kidd…the only real exception I can think of is Tony Parker.
3) But seriously, can we talk about Ward’s ball-handling? It was one thing when Mark Jackson would back his way down the court – at least you knew he was going all the way into the paint to actually post up his man – but this was a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, playing NBA point guard, who literally can’t even dribble up the court? And he was still very effective despite this? The next time we see another point guard employ this tactic, he’ll be 6’6” and either drawing Magic Johnson comparisons or out of the league in two years. I will never, ever figure this out.