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2/Bernard King Return to Elite Sports after ACL Injury March 23, 1985 One minute and twenty-four seconds remained in a late season game between the New York Knicks and the Kansas City Kings. Bernard King was by far the best player on the floor. He was leading the NBA in scoring that season, averaging 32.9 points per game so far. He had set a record for his hometown Knicks on Christmas Day, scoring 60 points. Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird called King “the best scorer I’ve ever seen or played against,” that season.1 “He was so far above everyone else that it looked like he was playing on an 8-foot basket,” teammate Ernie Grunfeld later recalled.2 A proficient scorer, King is often remembered for back-to-back 50-point games in 1984 against the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks. He was the first player to achieve that feat in 20 years. Later that season, King steered his Knicks to a win in game 5 of a playoff series against the Isiah Thomas–led Detroit Pistons. King averaged 42.6 points in the series and played through the flu and dislocated fingers in both hands in that decisive game. Fittingly, he was named NBA most valuable player (MVP) in that 1983–1984 season. King had already scored 37 points in the March 1985 game against Kansas City. As he ran back on defense, he jumped to block a shot by Kings guard Reggie Theus. When King landed from that jump, he immediately grabbed his right leg. He would later describe that he felt as though his knee had exploded. On that seemingly routine play, Bernard King tore the ACL in his knee. His season—and possibly his career—ended. King’s journey to the NBA began in Brooklyn, New York. He learned to play basketball on playgrounds only a short distance from Madison Square Garden, the home of the New York Knicks. Basketball later led him to the University of Tennessee, where the six-foot- 26 / That’s Gotta Hurt seven small forward earned Southeastern Conference (SEC) Player of the Year honors three times. Success on the court came with trouble off it. King battled an opponent greater than an injury in his early years. Alcohol-related mood swings reportedly led to disorderly conduct arrests during his time at Tennessee and in his first few years in the NBA.3 Despite being drafted seventh overall in the 1977 NBA draft by the New Jersey Nets and winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award in 1978, King was traded to Utah after two seasons. The following year, Utah traded him to Golden State. The Warriors then traded him to the Knicks in 1982. King overcame his struggles with alcohol and shone under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. Perhaps it was this difficult journey from the asphalt playground courts to playing in one of the most legendary venues in all of sports, or maybe his offthe -court battles, that strengthened his resolve even further. King would need all of that courage and determination in the spring of 1985. “At that time, I was told my career was over,” King told Newsday’s Andrew MacDougall about his ACL tear. “Obviously, I didn’t believe anyone.”4 “My attitude and thought was always, No. 1, I am from Brooklyn,” King told Sean Deveney of Sporting News years later. “I grew up on the toughest basketball courts in the world in one of the toughest communities in the nation. And my thought was, if I can make it all the way from there to the top in the NBA, and rise to the top of my profession, I can handle this with regard to coming back from my ACL. This is nothing.”5 If anyone told Bernard King that his career was over—and it’s likely that everyone told him it was—it was for the simple reason that elite athletes did not return from ACL injuries. For example, a decade earlier Philadelphia 76ers forward Billy Cunningham had entered the 1975–1976 season as a four-time NBA All-Star, three-time firstteam all-NBA selection, and a member of the 76ers’ championship team. On December 5, 1975, Cunningham drove down the left side of the lane guarded by New York Knicks point guard Butch Beard. When Cunningham stopped quickly, his knee locked. The small forward out of the University of North Carolina crumpled...


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MARC Record
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