The same season Jordan came to the Bulls, 1984-85, it was Knicks Bernard King who led the league in scoring with an average of 32.9ppg. 6’7” Wing would amaze fans across the States putting on a spectacular display of scoring skills each and every night.
On Christmas Day, 1984, in Madison Square Garden, King scored 60 points against visiting New Jersey Nets thus becoming just the tenth player in the NBA history to score 60+ points in a single game. However, only three months later, on March 23rd, 1985 in Kansas City, King suffered a potential career-ending right knee injury that required major knee reconstruction. He would miss all of 1985-86 games for the Knicks, now led by rookie Patrick Ewing.
Out of the media spotlight, King relentlessly worked on strengthening up his knee and staying in NBA shape.
He would eventually return to the Madison Square Garden on April 10th, 1987, more than two years after the injury, by scoring seven points in a losing effort against visiting Milwaukee Bucks. King would start four out of the remaining six games for the 1986-87 Knicks being the leading scorer over the last month of the regular season. Interestingly enough, during this short six-game stint he never joined forces with Patrick Ewing, Knicks superstar over the next decade – Ewing sprained his left knee in Indianapolis, on March 19th, 1987.
With Rick Pitino taking over as the Knicks head coach for 1987-88 and installing a more aggressive and running type of play, relying on the young and explosive Gerald Wilkins, Johnny Newman and Kenny Walker, Knicks front office made the decision to release King, with the explanation that he had lost most of his pre-injury explosiveness.
King would later use this unpopular decision by the Knicks as the extra motivation during the rest of his career, which was quite remarkable. But it wasn’t just the Knicks. There was a growing consent in the US basketball community that King’s successful comeback into the NBA would be one of the most improbable happenings.
31-year old forward joined the struggling Washington Bullets on a mission to prove not only that he belongs to the NBA but also to again become an All-Star. Starting with the 1987-88 season, King showed progress which paralleled with the improvement of US economy – he posted four straight 20+ppg seasons, while rejuvenated his career and again establishing himself as one of the elite NBA scorers.
The climax of King’s comeback happened in 1990-91 in which 34-year old forward averaged 28.4ppg and was named to the Eastern Conference squad for the 1991 NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte, North Carolina. He started the game as the forward spot and scored a total of eight points, to go along with three boards and three dimes.
That season alone King topped 40-point margin 11 times, while also posting two 50-point games (against visiting Denver and Utah), while fully earning his selection to the 1990-91 All-NBA Second Team. King, in particular, played like a man possessed against his former team, the Knicks, averaging 35.6 points, 8.0 boards, and 5.2 dimes.
One of his most impressive performances of that season came on January 31st, 1991 when he scored 49 points in a 107-98 road win over the Knicks in the MSG, where the fans stayed loyal to King. That night King would hear his name called out not only by Bullets head coach Wes Unseld but also from the Knicks fans who were amazed what ex-Knick could do with a basketball, even as a veteran.
Even with Knicks coach Stu Jackson constantly switching defenders on him King had no particular problem launching his fade-away jumper after isolation plays on the wing. And 20 out of 35 times the ball hit the bottom of the net in MSG! King scored 49 points to go along with 11 boards and 5 dimes on that memorable night in MSG.
After missing out to play in 1991-92 NBA season, 36-year old 4-time All-Star closed down his glorious NBA career with a 32-game stint with the 1992-93 Nets, the squad which originally drafted him in 1977, where he served as the mentor to the ‘young guns’ at the forward spot – Derrick Coleman, Chris Morris, and Chucky Brown.
Murray A. a.k.a. Marjan Crnogaj is a BN contributor and the co-author of the books ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon’ (‘Drazen – Godine Zmaja’) and ‘Bridging the Generations’ (‘Most Generacija’). He resides in Zagreb, Croatia, currently working on his third book which tells the untold story of the 1989 Green Card Five.