Bernard King is one of those players I’ve always had to go back and retrace his game. Faint memories of him in a Bullets uniform reside only because my uncle – who was living in DC at the time – was thrilled the local team had some sort star power even if he was on his last leg. But the true appreciation and overall talent his game possessed has sprouted throughout the years as I’ve become older, better looking and wiser. Ok, just older and wiser.
Any old head I’ve ever had the pleasure of having enlightening NBA conversations with has always sung the praises of Bernard King. There’s no hyperbole in that either; I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about Bernard King. Not as a Net. Not as a Warrior. Not as a Bullet. And damn sure not as a Knick. Through my own fascination with the sport, King emerged as something like a cult icon. And ironically, the guy who shares the same birthday with another New York living legend – Jay-Z; December 4 – my own set of conclusions have been drawn about Bernard; all of which have been verified as legit by the Old Black Men In The Barbershop Of America Council slightly alluded to earlier.
1. Think about New York in the ’80s. There was the coming of age of an art form called Hip-Hop. There was Reganomics. There was the crack-cocaine boom. And there was Bernard King. In a town that’s all but impossible to earn overwhelming support, King – in a short amount of time – supplanted himself as The Undisputed King of New York.
A few months ago, I was in NYC for a random trip and even then, nearly 30 years following his glory years in the Apple, people still adore the guy. I sparked a random conversation with a Knicks fan while waiting in line for pizza and asked him how big Bernard still was in the city. His response, “That son of a bitch will always be the king here. No matter what.” I’m still interested in hearing from a New Yorker if he makes the city’s Mount Rushmore of athletes. Moving right along…
2. We – my generation at least – always discusses Grant Hill and Penny Hardaway as the two biggest “injuries-really-messed-a-great-thing-up” cases. By all accounts, Hardaway was supposed to go on to become one of the Top 10 greatest combo guards ever while Hill was supposed to be the one of the millions of “next Jordan” clones who actually lived up to the billing.
However, King’s career-altering knee injury against the Kansas City Kings while attempting to block a Reggie Theus layup on March 23, 1985, effectively changed the course of the Knicks. Forever, really. Keep in mind, Bernard was putting up 33-6-4 on 53% shooting that season prior to going down.
3. To piggyback off point #2, King finished his career with 19,655 points. It’s all matches to wet wood now, but let’s play the what if game only because it’s one of my favorite aspects about the game of basketball. Let’s say King never goes down with that knee injury, but the Knicks still go on to suck that year. The Knicks were already 19-36 when Bernard went down, so it’s not a reach to imagine they’d win less than 30 games if he stays healthy. So with the Knicks in the lottery, let’s say Stern and company still rig the joint so New York gets the #1 pick that year.
The selection is obviously Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing who was only the most can’t-miss prospect in well over a decade. The Knicks weren’t great at the time and Ewing had amassed a legacy at Georgetown and across the East Coast rivaling damn near any celebrity in 1985 not named Eddie Murphy, Michael J. Foxx or Sylvester Stallone. This gives New York a one-two punch of King and Ewing; the best scorer Larry Bird ever played against and a franchise center in the biggest media capital in the world.
What if the planets align and these two morph into some scary ass nickname like the “Broadway Butchers” or something? What can you do with a guy capable of giving you 30-6-5 a night on efficient shooting and a big man capable of 24-12 and locking down the paint? The best case scenario we’re looking at legit threats in the East in the late ’80s with Boston, Detroit and Chicago. The worst case, they’re the precursor to watching Carmelo and Amar’e attempt to out “excuse me, let me get there” one another.
Nevertheless, it’s all water under the bridge now. The Knicks appear to be headed towards the second overall seed out East and their best season since 1993-1994 when they were a few bounces and “the OJ chase” away from a title. Carmelo – despite not being Forbes’ favorite player – is doing his best to morph into King 2.0 and just like that, the buzz is back in Madison Square Garden once again riding an 11-game winning streak.
*Puts on Stan cap*
And yes, while I do hope the Knicks fall completely on their face in the coming weeks at the hands of the team their former coach helped assemble led by game’s finest player since this happened* – *takes off stan cap* – I’d be a fool to not pay homage to Bernard King and his Hall of Fame induction.** A well-deserved honor for a beloved pillar of big city basketball and, by all accounts, an even greater person who overcame personal demons during the early stages of his career.
Just know though, he’s been in the Black Barbershop Hall of Fame for years.
Related — The Comeback King They Said He Was Washed Up, But Bernard King Has Silenced His Critics By Earning A Date With The All-Stars [Orlando Sentinel] | Fan’s Perspective: Bernard King’s Iconic Christmas & Carmelo’s Chance At Big Apple Immortality [TSFJ]
* – Let’s talk this out like men, shall we, Lakers fans?
** – I’ve something totally different planned for Gary Payton. Check The Sports Fan Journal in a few days.