Patrick Ewing in a Jock Strap

When I was a wee-little storyteller of 17 years, I had the opportunity to go to the New York Knicks training camp to interview their rookie point guard, Greg Anthony. At 6’0″, I was able to look eye-to-eye with the just-out-of-UNLV star while I talked with him in the weight room. Five feet away, a massive, angry-looking German Kiki VanDeWeghe put 25-pound plate after 25-pound plate on the bench-press bar and proceeded to throw it up like it was a plastic fork. The sneaky-tall John Starks, who drove me absolutely crazy as a Knicks fan with his streaky jump shooting, ran on a treadmill just to the right of Kiki.

I was in heaven.

My life had changed dramatically in the previous two years. A once-promising baseball career ended with one too many curveballs and a ruined elbow/forearm. I had stumbled upon sports writing as a substitute for sports playing. Thanks to a few strokes of luck, I was doing some coverage on the New York Yankees for a national baseball magazine, and I had used those bona fides to weasel my way into the Greg Anthony interview with the Knicks.

I finished my interview with Greg, and he was walking me out while we continued to talk when he remembered something he had left in the locker room. He told me to follow him, that it was totally cool, so I did. When he swung open the door, I was met by a shocking site.

There was New York Knicks star center Patrick Ewing, all 7 feet of him, sitting on a bench that was comically low for his massive frame. And he was wearing nothing but his knee pads and a jock strap while he dripped sweat from his face into a growing pool between his feet.

I was thinking about that experience today as I prepared to interview an international superstar of another sort, Dr. Farshid Guilak. Dr. Guilak is a world-renowned researcher who is on the vanguard of what comes next in medicine. Ever since I started my job at Shriners Hospital in St. Louis three months ago, people kept telling me, “You’ve got to talk to Dr. Guilak. He’s fascinating.” So I was surprised last month when he reached out to me and suggested we meet to talk about his research.

Then, COVID.

The last thing I wanted to do was Zoom with this brilliant researcher when my brain was mush. Well, my brain is still mush, but I decided to go through with it anyway. So I talked with him this morning about what his research is all about. He did an amazing job of dumbing it down, which I imagine is a really difficult thing to do when you’re dealing with cells and regenerative medicine and the like. We absolutely blew through our hour-long meeting, and I think we both enjoyed the conversation… so much so that he recommended we book another hour tomorrow.

Here’s are some difference between Dr. Guilak and Patrick Ewing.

  • Dr. Guilak was born in Iran and raised in America. Patrick Ewing was born in Jamaica and raised in America.
  • Dr. Guilak is an accomplished racquetball player, who even played on the pro circuit, which I had no idea existed until today. Patrick Ewing regularly crushed my heart by losing in the NBA playoff to the Bulls or, once, in the finals to the Rockets.
  • Dr. Guilak was fully clothed when I talked to him. Patrick Ewing was, well, not.

But the biggest difference was that Dr. Guilak was extremely friendly. Patrick Ewing? When I asked if I could talk to him about Greg Anthony for my story, he growled, “I don’t talk about rookies,” got up and gave me a view I have never forgotten as he walked away.

Overall, the bar wasn’t set too high for Dr. Guilak to be a better interview than Patrick Ewing. But he cleared it. And I can’t wait to tell the stories that came from our conversation.

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