Bernard King was not accorded the proper respect that he deserves: legitimate recognition of his greatness. His name should’ve been included on the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team, which was unveiled a few weeks ago.
In 2006, TNT published an article that provided a revealing look at the network broadcasters’ thoughts on which players are the next 10, a decade after the 50 greatest players were celebrated in connection with the league’s golden anniversary.
Legendary play-by-play announcer Marv Albert said he would’ve included King’s name among the next 10.
While Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Julius “Dr. J” Erving and other superstars commanded attention and won NBA titles in the 1980s before Michael Jordan ascended to the top of the basketball pecking order – and stayed there until he retired (the first two times) – it was impossible to bottle up King for long.
Simply put, the New York native and University of Tennessee alum was too strong, too crafty, too competitive, too determined, and too great to be denied baskets during a remarkable stretch of five seasons from 1980-81 to 1984-85. During that five-year span, King shot 58.8, 56.6, 52.8, 57.2, and 53.0 percent from the field. He averaged 21.9, 23.2, 21.9, 26.3, and 32.9 points per game in those seasons, the first two for the Golden State Warriors, the next three for the New York Knicks.
The 6-foot-7 King’s greatness was clearly defined on a road trip in 1984. He dropped 50 points on the San Antonio Spurs on January 31, making 20 of 30 shots from the floor without attempting a three-pointer. The next day, King had another 50-point outing against the Denver Nuggets, again without attempting a triple.
In the 1984 playoffs, King was a thorn in the side of the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics in the first two rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs. In 12 games, his scoring totals were as follows: 36, 46, 46, 41, 44, 26, 13, 24, 43, 30, 44, and 24. He made zero threes in either series.
On Christmas Day 1984, the Knicks star torched the New Jersey Nets for 60 points, with 19-for-30 shooting and 22-for-26 from the free-throw line.
“He was capable of doing that every night,” Albert said in a short highlight video posted on Twitter. “He would be like the pitcher in baseball who you think can throw a no-hitter every time.”
On the same video, Magic said: “He had this look like he was going to kill you on his face, and then he shook your hand, and almost was telling you, like, ‘Get ready, I’m about to give you 50.’ “
King suffered devastating leg and knee injuries on March 3, 1985. He missed all but six games over the next two seasons.
When he returned for the final stretch of the 1986-87 campaign, King was at the end of his contract. The Knicks didn’t re-sign him. Instead, he went to the Washington Bullets.
Four seasons later, he averaged 28.4 points per contest, even after losing the explosiveness that was a major component of his offensive repertoire.
“Bernard King’s the only guy who scored 20 points a game without a medial collateral ligament,” semi-retired Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan stated.
Drafted No. 7 overall by the New Jersey Nets in 1977, the four-time NBA All-Star, was named to the All-Rookie Team and scored 24.2 points per game. He averaged 22.5 points per outing for his career, scoring 19,655 points in total. He tallied 20 or more in 11 of his 14 seasons.
Ryan, who has covered the league since 1969, talked about the NBA 75th Anniversary Team on a recent CLNS Media podcast, along with Jeff Goodman and Gary Tanguay. Discussing the list of players who made it and those who were left off, Ryan, one of the voters, said King should’ve been on the list. He voted for King.
“He was the greatest offensive force in basketball for a couple of years,” Ryan pointed out, “back in ’84, ’85, ’86, before Michael became Michael. Michael was on his training wheels, you know. Bernard King was the man. Unstoppable.”
Ryan then told a story about the first game of a 1984 first-round playoff series, Pistons versus Knicks, at the Pontiac Silverdome, that illustrated how good King was in his prime.
“(Knicks coach) Hubie Brown called Bernard King’s number 13 consecutive times to start the game,” Ryan said. “It was called power right, and out of which he got 22 of the conceivable 26 points, OK. That’s how good Bernard King was.”