Soon-To-Be Hall of Famer Bernard King Talks About His Classic 1984 Series Against The Pistons

Joining Gary Payton on this upcoming Hall of Fame induction weekend is former Knicks and Bullets star, Bernard King. The King of New York in the mid-80’s, Bernard was raised in Brooklyn’s tough Fort Greene housing projects before starring under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. Never was his greatness more apparent than in the 1984 playoffs against Isiah Thomas and the Pistons.

King sat down with the New York Post‘s Steve Serby for a Q&A before his induction this weekend. They talked about his tough upbringing, becoming one of the first players to return after an ACL tear — making another All-Star team with the Bullets — and his magical 1984 opening round playoff series against the Pistons where he averaged 42 points a game.

Before King got into that epic playoff duel with a young Zeke, he explained one of his fondest memories during his Hall-of-Fame career: his battle back from a torn ACL at the tail-end of the 1984-85 season when he led the league in scoring before the career-threatening injury. At the time, no one came back from a knee injury that severe, but King averaged 28.4 PPG in the 1990-91 season and returned to the All-Star game.

“What stands out in my mind was what I was able to do at a time when players were not coming back from ACL injuries. I had my entire knee reconstructed. I was told I would never play again. I told myself, ‘I’m from Brooklyn. I’m from Fort Greene. I grew up on the toughest playgrounds in the world. In one of the toughest neighborhoods in the country, and I made it all the way to the NBA, and I rose to the top of my profession at that time. You don’t know my heart. If I could do that, this is nothing!’ I set about the task of working to make it back at a level I could be satisfied with. I did that. To do that for five hours a day, six days a week for two straight years, and not once wavering, always having faith. … I did it. I became an All-Star again, and that was my goal.”

After King’s injury, he never got a chance to team with No. 1 pick Patrick Ewing. Bernard believes he would have won a title if he’d stayed healthy long enough to pair with the Georgetown star.

“I thought we’d have won a championship together, and that’s my only regret. I would have had no problem integrating my skills with Patrick because it would have been his team.”

But it was King’s otherworldly performance in the first round of the 1984 playoffs against a young Isiah Thomas Pistons squad that stands out in many New Yorkers minds as one of the many pinnacles of his up-and-down career. Bernard would average 42 points per game as the series went to a deciding game 5.

But Bernard was quick to laud the performance of Isaiah in the series, too.

“It was very kind of Isiah to call me and congratulate me on my induction into the Hall of Fame. … What I remember is I’m playing that entire series with two dislocated fingers. I probably would have been sat down if it was the regular season. But my teammates depended on me. In that fifth game, I had the flu. I did not participate in the shootaround that morning. But nothing was going to keep me from playing. My father went to work every day even when he was sick. I went to work when I was sick. … How do you score 16 points in [94] seconds [as Isiah did]? If I had to go out to the court on my own in my playing days, there’s no way if I put a clock on it I’m going to score 16 points in [94] seconds from all the areas of the court he was shooting from. I always thought of myself as a pressure player. I was willing to accept pressure. If you’re the No. 1 offensive force on your team, you better be there down the stretch.”

Keep reading to hear Bernard describe his game-sealing shot against the Pistons in 1984.

Despite Knicks coach Hubie Brown calling Bill Cartwright‘s number in the closing seconds of game 5, up by only a point, King drove to his trademark spot on the court — the left baseline — and lofted that lightening-quick jumper to give the Knicks a 3-point lead.

Serby: Tell the story of how Hubie diagrammed the last shot in Game 5 for Bill Cartwright.
King: I have never ever in my basketball life questioned a coach on any level. You don’t question the coach. You’re a player, you play. I’m averaging over 42 points a game. and the game is on the line. If we’re going to win this game, I’m going to take the shot. If we’re going to lose this game, I’m going to take the shot. You don’t do that breaking the play. I said [in the huddle], ‘Hubie, do I have the right to take it myself?’ He did not respond. So I said it louder: ‘Hubie, do I have the right to take it myself?’ Ultimately, he looked up from his board and said: ‘Yeah.’ Earl Cureton defended me. The season was on the line for both organizations. He said, ‘Come on, bring it on!’ I didn’t think about it, but I heard it. I wasn’t going to change what I was going to do. I dribbled, and I did something I ordinarily don’t do — I put the ball between my legs just to throw his rhythm off. He was 6-10. I drove left to slow his lateral movement down, took two dribbles, I faded and I shot, and fortunately for our team it went in.

Isiah would come down and nail a three-pointer to send the game into overtime where King would lead the Knicks to victory. But it was Bernard’s late heroics in regulation that kept the Knicks from getting eliminated following Isiah’s 3-pointer at the end.

Bernard King is being inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend, and that Detroit series is just one reason why.

[New York Post]

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