Bernard King is absolutely one of the 10 best players to ever don a New York Knicks uniform. Where anyone stands in a top 10 list can be debated until the sun rises, but the impact King left in New York leaves no doubt that he can be considered one of the best players ever to play for the Knicks.
While King only spent three seasons with New York (technically four, but a torn ACL prevented him from playing all but the last six games of his last season as a Knick), he became a must-see attraction.
While King was always a productive NBA player (career averages of 22.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists), he enjoyed the peak of his fame and prowess while in New York City. Always known for his ability to score the basketball, King poured in 26 points a game during his tenure with the Knicks.
King had always been able to score and almost seemed destined to play the game from when he was born. One of six children, the King’s were naturally blessed with size, athleticism and a feel for the game. Bernard’s younger brother, Albert, is considered one of the greatest high school players of all time and played nine seasons in the NBA.
After a stellar high school career, Bernard King starred at Tennessee, where he notched 25.8 points per game over three years. But as easy as King made it look on the court, he struggled off of it.
As an African-American male in the 1970s, racism was rampant and widespread. Even those who were supposed to protect couldn’t see past the racial divide, and thus King faced racism from many at Tennessee, even the police.
Once King became eligible for the NBA, he declared and was picked seventh overall by the New Jersey Nets. He made it immediately apparent that he could score with the best of them and led the team as a rookie with 24.2 points a game, adding 9.5 rebounds per game to boot. But despite his individual talents and efforts, the Nets missed the playoffs with a league worst 24-58 record.
While King played well over the next couple of seasons, his off-court issues started to emerge. His problems with substance abuse became common knowledge, and even his family stepped in to help intervene. Luckily, he fought off his drug issues and started to show off just how much talent he had.
Standing at an athletic and built 6-foot-7, King was a nightmare for opposing teams, as his size and strength made it easy for him to get to his spots and simply rise up over the top for a jump shot. He wasn’t the fastest, nor did he have the best moves, as he didn’t wow the crowd with flashy moves or go out of his way to embarrass the defense.
Instead, King simply scored. And scored. And scored. King would stroke jumper after jumper over defenders, and before you knew it, you’d look up at the scoreboard and see that he had 30.
As a free agent in the summer of 1982, King signed with the Knicks and began the best stretch of his career. He enjoyed the bright spotlights of New York and the exposure was good for him – King made the All-Star Game twice and led the league in scoring once with 32.9 points per game.
King was proving that he was only getting better with time, as he kept increasing his scoring year-to-year with the Knicks. Then, disaster struck. He tore his ACL late into his third year as a Knick and almost missed the entire next season as he recovered and rehabbed.
An ACL injury might have signaled the end of a career in the late ‘70s, but King was known for his work ethic. After putting in hours and hours of rehab, he made a comeback with the Washington Bullets and was more than productive – in three consecutive seasons (at the ages of 32, 33 and 34), he increased his scoring average (from 23.5 to 24.6 to 27.2) and even made the All-Star Game as a 34-year-old.
Eventually, King had to have another knee surgery to remove some cartilage, and that spelled the end of his professional basketball career. He ended his career with 19,655 points, good for 42nd all-time.
It’s a shame the knee problems forced King out of the league early, but he’ll always be remembered for how well he scored the basketball. That scoring prowess earned him a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, and Knicks fans will always hold him dear to their heart.