NBA Greatest Players: Bernard King (#41)

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One of the greatest sporting tragedies is how forgotten and disregarded Bernard King has become when people talk about the all-time greats in NBA history. This is a man that in his prime was one of the greatest scorers that has ever played the game. His spin move (in either direction) after facing up was virtually unstoppable. He had such a quick release on his jumper too, so his defender couldn’t sag off. He was relentless and fearless. In 1984, when he was runner-up in MVP voting to Larry Bird (yep, he finished ahead of Magic, Kareem, Dr J, and Isiah Thomas), he dragged The Knicks to the second round and forced a game 7 against the aforementioned Larry Bird and the eventual champion Boston Celtics. He was selected to the all-NBA 1st team twice (1984 and 1985), the 2nd team once (1982) and third team in 1991. He was the scoring champion in 1985, putting up 32.9 PPG, and was selected to 4 all-star games (82, 84, 85, and 92).

That’s it?

I’ll be the first to admit, one trip to the Eastern conference semi-finals and 2 all-NBA first team selections does seem a little thin to make this, but we do need to appreciate the context of just how special that 1984 season was. As basketball fans, we’ve applauded Iverson and Lebron for taking their teams to the finals with substandard supporting casts. We celebrated Dominique Wilkins for keeping the Atlanta Hawks competitive with Doc Rivers and Kevin Willis as his main role players. We need to do the same with Bernard King. In 1984, New York had Bill Cartwright, Trent Trucker and Darrell Walker (all three of these guys are better known for being spare parts on the first Three-peat for Chicago). I challenge anybody to find a player that took a team to the playoffs (outside of Kobe in 2006 when he took The Lakers to the post-season with Mihm, Kwame Brown, Lamar Odom and Smush Parker) with less help than what King had that year. And once they were in the play-offs, he raised his game to heights so rare that I’m starting to think I’ve ranked him way too low. In the first round against The Pistons, he averaged 42.6 points per game. Go ahead, read that again. Don’t worry, I’ll repeat it: 42.6 points per game. Excuse my language, but that is fucking insane! And he was shooting over 60% from the field. With the flu and two finger dislocations (one on each hand) in 5th and deciding game in Detroit, King scored 44 points and pulled down 12 rebounds as New York won in overtime. Next up was Boston and Bird. Here’s the game by game scoring for these two:

Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Bird 23 Points 37 Points 24 Points 29 Points 26 Points 35 Points 39 Points
King 26 Points 13 Points 24 Points 43 Points 30 Points 44 Points 24 Points

 

Wow. Just wow. And people want to jack off to the Dominique/ Bird shootout in 1988? This was the two best players, in their prime, going back and forth, and I’m not sure if the better player won the series. Bird had hall of famers McHale, Parish and Dennis Johnson helping him out. Bernard King had (as I mentioned before) Bill Cartwright and Trent Tucker. In that playoff run, King averaged 35 PPG with all the attention of opposing team’s defences on him. I don’t intend to disrespect Larry Bird here, but Bernard King should have been MVP that year.

The next season, Bernard put up 33 PPG before tearing his ACL in his knee. Remember, this was in 1985 when it was unheard of for a player to return from that injury. King fought his way back, and the Washington Bullets picked him up. He became a starter for 3 seasons there and averaged 21 PPG in 1989, 22 PPG in 1990 and 28.4 PPG in 1991. That, to me, is just as impressive as what he did in 1984. Here’s a guy whose entire game was built around athleticism and when that was taken away from him, he rebuild his skills and put up 28.4 points per game (which was third in the NBA, behind only Jordan and Karl Malone)

What if…

Ewing and Bernard King as teammates in the 1991 All Star Game

Ewing and Bernard King as teammates in the 1991 All Star Game

Knick fans might not be able to read this, but what if King never blew out his knee? New York had just drafted Ewing, and King was coming off a season where he scored 33 points per game. We all saw how painfully close The Knicks got with Ewing with John Starks as their second scoring option, just imagine the damage they would have done with a King and Ewing duo? I can’t even articulate it, but the entire dynamic and history of the league would have been different. We’re talking about the legitimate possibility of a dynasty here instead of Chicago (at least in the first 3-peat) with a Ewing/ Oakley/ King Frontcourt.

The heartbreaking thing about the hypothetical that I just presented is how painfully close it was to a reality. And what was even closer to fruition was Bernard King being a top 20 (or even higher) player in the history of the game. That one knee injury took that away, but for him to make this list with only 3 seasons of dominance illustrates exactly how good this man was. When we talk about the greatest scorers in the history of the NBA, we have to talk about Jordan, Wilt, Kareem, Iverson, Kobe and Bird. But before we mention Dominique, Barkley or Karl Malone, Bernard King’s name has to be mentioned.

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