In this column we will take a look back at NBA players from the past who at one stage were the elite stars in the game, and have now almost faded into obscurity. Today we feature small forward Bernard King. King was a 6'7", 205 pound explosive scorer from the University of Tennessee. A superstar in college, he finished with averages of 25.8 ppg and 13.2 rpg. His #53 jersey was retired by UT in February 2007. Selected 7th overall in the 1977 Draft by the New York Nets (later New Jersey), his career spanned 14 seasons and during that time he was a 4-time All-Star and broke several NBA scoring records. He played 79 games in his rookie season, averaging a phenomenal 24.2 ppg, 9.5rpg and 2.4 apg, in the process setting the Nets franchise record for most point in a season- but lost out to Walter Davis for that year's Rookie of the Year award. His on court success however was hampered by a series of trouble off the court. The league at the time was rife with drug use, and King found himself struggling with substance abuse. By the end of the '79-'80 season, the Nets had decided he was more trouble than he was worth, and was subsequently shipped off to the Utah Jazz. His troubles only worsened there, and he was arrested for a sexual assault. Upon news of his arrest he was suspended for the rest of the season after playing only 19 games for the Jazz. He joined Golden State for the '80-'81 season. A positive change of scenery in which he played 81 games and averaged 21.9 ppg resulted in King being awarded the Comeback Player of the Year. The following year he backed it up, averaging 23.2 ppg and earning his first All-Star selection. His personal demons still haunted him though, and once again found himself suiting up for a new team, this time the New York Knicks. The 1984-'85 season would turn out to be a turning point in his career, for good and bad reasons. That year, King was dominating. He took out the scoring title, averaging a career-high 32.9 ppg - even dropping 60 points one night against his old Nets team - at the time only the tenth player in history to hit the 60 point mark. On New Year's Eve 1984, King became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain twenty years earlier to drop 50 points in consecutive games- coming against the Spurs and Mavericks respectively. Then one night against the Kansas City Kings in 1985, his knee popped while slashing to the hoop. It was a devastating injury that required a major reconstruction, and caused him to miss the entire 1985-'86 season. During that time, he became completely withdrawn and struggled with the possibility that he may never play again. Depression set in and he became a recluse, choosing to practice alone.
"When I was injured, I felt I had to protect myself emotionally from the game, because I knew I would miss it if I could never play anymore. To protect myself I had to stay away. …so if I chose to make my workouts a private matter, I don’t see why people couldn’t just accept that.During those months of private rehabilitation, King steeled himself to make yet another comeback. He realised he would never be the same player again. He had lost his explosiveness. His killer first step was gone. Rather than driving along the baseline, he knew his game had to rely more on post-up moves and mid-range jump shots. His time away couldn't have come at a worse time for him. During his long layoff, his contract with New York expired. The Washington Bullets picked him up as a free agent in the 1986-'87 season. King now had more to prove than ever before, his private goal to make it to another All-Star game became his driving force. His move to the Bullets proved to be a saving grace. Through sheer hard work, King made it back to the top of his game. His scoring improved every year in those four years with Washington starting at 17.2 ppg, until finally in the 1990-'91 season where scored 28.4 ppg (third in the league) and an equal career-high 4.6 assists per game. King set a Bullets record that year, dropping 52 on the Denver Nuggets. On February 10, 1991, 5 years after his devastating knee injury, he finally realised his dream and was named to the Eastern All-Star team. Playing at the Charlotte Coliseum, he received a standing ovation by the 23,530 fans. As a starter in that game he scored 8 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Following that season, King faced more trouble with his injured knee. He was once again sidelined for over a year as he prepared for yet another arduous rehab program. He made it back to playing shape again and at the age of 36 he made yet another comeback, signing with the Nets (the team that drafted him in 1977). Playing in 32 games, in limited minutes he averaged 7 ppg, but the Nets made an early exit from the playoffs. After years of hard work and lingering knee problems, King finally retired at the end of the 1992-'93 season. King played a total of 874 games, scoring 19,655 points. His lasting legacy was his dogged determination to persevere after so many setbacks.