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Jerry Bembry (Blacktopxchange), Alejandro Danois (Blacktopxchange) and David Steele (The Sporting News) discuss Bernard King’s induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame
In the days after Tracy McGrady announced his retirement a couple of weeks ago, I came across an online video in which CBS sports host Doug Gottlieb discussed T-Mac’s chances of making the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
I agreed when Gottlieb described McGrady’s chances as slim, based on his being a one-dimensional offensive player who failed to deliver playoff success to the team’s he led. But then Gottlieb supported his argument by comparing McGrady’s career to that of Bernard King, suggesting that the long-time New York Knicks great didn’t deserve the Hall of Fame honors that he received with yesterday’s induction.
I wanted to reach through my computer monitor and shake some sense into Gottlieb.
In reality, King didn’t deserve to go into the Hall of Fame yesterday.
He deserved that honor years ago.
One of the arguments made against King in terms of the Hall of Fame was that with 874 career NBA games, he didn’t play long enough to warrant inclusion.
To that argument I offer two words: Bill Walton. The two-time NBA MVP only played 468 games during his injury-plagued career, but gained inclusion into the Hall of Fame for his great play in the NBA and college. And it is the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and not the NBA Hall of Fame.
But even if you tossed aside King’s outstanding college career at Tennessee, which began with him averaging 26 points and 12 rebounds as a freshman, what he did in his 14 NBA seasons was still worthy of consideration long before yesterday.
There weren’t many small forwards in the game more explosive than King during the 1980s, which he demonstrated during the 1983-84 season when he scored 50 points on two straight nights.
In the open court you could always find King filling the lane on the break, often side-stepping opponents to finish the play with rim-rattling dunks. And when you fed King in the post in the half court he would either get by you with a lightning-quick first step, or launch a turnaround jumper that — with his quick release — was more often than not money (King was a 51.8 percent career shooter).
King was leading the NBA in scoring when he blew out his ACL during the 1985 season — at the time when the injury was thought to be career-ending. He lost so much of his quickness that the Knicks eventually released him (and banked their future on Kenny Walker).
But King reinvented himself after signing with the Washington Bullets, and in 1991 he averaged 28 points a game when he made the All-Star team.
It was when I saw him live for the first time during the 1979 NBA playoffs — when the Nets were swept, 2-0, in the first round by the Philadelphia 76ers in a game played at Rutgers University — that King became my favorite player.
The admiration went beyond our both being from Brooklyn — it had more to do with his determination and drive. And the respect grew even more when King later overcame alcoholism, which could have easily derailed his great career.
I modeled my playground game after Bernard King. And when he averaged 42.6 points per game in the opening round of the 1984 playoffs against the Detroit Pistons, while playing with dislocated fingers on each hand there were quite a few kids in Brooklyn — myself included — who took to the playgrounds with taped fingers. Simply to be like King.
Outside of Michael Jordan, that 1984 opening round against the Pistons is the best individual playoff performance by an individual that I’ve ever seen.
Tracy McGrady played in more All-Star games than King (7 to 4), scored more playoff points than King (1,109 to 687) and was a far superior athlete.
But comparing the two — as Gottlieb did — and their impact on the game?
That’s not even an argument worth having.