How Good Was New York Knicks Star Bernard King?

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Bernard King of the New York Knicks in action against the Boston Celtics.

Bernard King could score with the best of them. A 6-foot-7 small forward, King played 14 seasons in the NBA but was unable to leave on his own terms. The four-time NBA All-Star knew he could still play but didn’t want to drag out his illustrious career, knowing he just couldn’t be at the top of his game anymore.

How good was King? The New York Knicks legend was as good as any offensive player in the game during his day. The bigger question is: How good could King have been had he not torn up his knee during the 1985-86 season?

Bernard King was a scoring machine

How Good Was New York Knicks Star Bernard King?
Bernard King of the New York Knicks in action against the Boston Celtics during an NBA basketball game circa 1984 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

King played his college ball at Tennessee and was the seventh overall pick in the 1977 NBA Draft, selected by the New Jersey Nets. He made an immediate impact as a rookie, playing 39.1 minutes and averaging 24.2 points and 9.5 rebounds.

The Nets eased up on his minutes the following season, lowering his average to 34.9. He played all 82 games and put up 21.6 points and 8.2 rebounds. He played those two seasons with the Nets before they traded him to the Utah Jazz just before the start of the 1979-80 season.

With Utah, he appeared in just 19 games before undergoing treatment for substance abuse. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, drugs were a serious problem in the NBA.

“There is not a team in the league you can confidently say does not have a drug problem,” Frank Layden, general manager of the Utah Jazz, told The Washington Post in 1980. “Every team could benefit from a rehabilitation program. I had two (drug) cases out of 11 players last year. We need a place to send these people (for help).”

In September 1980, the Jazz traded King to the Golden State Warriors, where he spent two seasons. There, King continued his potent offensive attack, averaging 22.5 points, making his first NBA All-Star appearance in his second season with the team. After two years, the Warriors sent King to the Knicks in a deal for Michael Ray Richardson.

King blossomed during his days with the Knicks

RELATED: Bernard King on His Record-Setting 60 Points on Christmas Day: ‘I Felt Total Dejection’

In his first season with the Knicks, King started all 68 games he played and averaged 21.9 points. The following season, he made returned to All-Star form, putting up what was then a career-high 26.3 points. He also shot 57.2% from the floor. That season, he became the first player to score 50 or more points in consecutive games since Rick Barry did it in 1967.

In his third year with the Knicks, King led the league in scoring with 32.9 points. On Christmas that season, he poured in 60 points against his former team, the Nets. He played 55 games before suffering a devastating knee injury while trying to block a dunk by Reggie Theus of the Kansas City Kings.

King underwent major reconstruction of his right knee that kept him out the rest of the year and the entire 1985-86 season. He returned to the Knicks for six games in the 1986-87 season but was never quite the same.

In 1987, the Knicks released King, who was signed by the Washington Bullets, where he played four seasons. In each year, he improved his scoring drastically (17.2, 20.7, 22,4, and 28,4). During his final season with the Bullets, he made his fourth and final All-Star appearance.

King missed the entire 1991-92 season because of another knee injury. He returned the following season with the Nets, playing 32 games and averaging 7.0 points. He retired in 1993 at the age of 36.

“I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I cannot be one of the better players in the league,” King said in 1993, per The Los Angeles Times. “It’s not so much age as it is not being able to play on a level that I had been accustomed to.”