Originally published in SLAM 19
The 6th Man: My favorite player of all-time is Bernard King. For a number of reasons-the intensity, the turnaround jumpshot that converted a post-pass into two points in the blink of an eye, the hunger for the ball at crunchtime that only one current Knicks-John Starks-exhibits. ‘Nard was, and still is, my man.
For the uninitiated, let me explain something about Bernard King’s career, some of which you can find in stat books and some of which you cannot. Over 14 seasons, ‘Nard averaged 22.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 3.3 apg. During his career, he amassed 20,342 hard-earned points.
In the early-to-mid-’80’s, King carried the Knicks to the playoffs time and time again, showing such courage under fire that even clutch players like Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas were left shaking their heads. He suffered a brutal knee injury (I still remember him collapsing underneath the basket against the old Kansas City Kings) and missed the entire ’85-86 and much of the ’86-87 seasons. After intensive physical therapy, he returned to the game in ’87 to average 19.1 ppg over his final five seasons with the Bullets and Nets.
The fact that King didn’t win the MVP award after the ’84-85 seasons (it went to Larry Bird), when he dropped 32.9 ppg and 5.8 rpg a game, was, to me, one of the greatest crimes of the century. That is, until the NBA announced its Top 50 players of all time and Bernard King was nowhere to be found.
Now, let me tell you a little bit about Bill Walton. In ten seasons, Bill averaged 13.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg and 3.3 apg. Although he won an NBA title with the Trailblazers during the ’76-77 seasons, Walton finished his career with 6,743 points-less than one-third of King’s total output. Needless to say, Bill making the cut was a sore point for me (and I’m not even gonna get into Shaquille O’Neal). Not that I think Walton’s a bad guy; his keen insight helped sculpt our Top-50 list. It’s just that in no way is Bill Walton one of the 50 all-time best NBA players. And I suspect that, in his heart, he knows it too.
That’s it. I’m done preaching. We did our own Top 50, which involved a whole lot of back-and-forth dialogue between the writer, Ken Shouler, and us. Besides the thankless task of ranking them, stopping at 50 proved difficult. We all agreed that King, Bob McAdoo, Dominique, Adrian Dantley, Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel and Alex English should be in; the toughest part was deciding between Pete Maravich and Dave Bing, between Big Game James Worthy and Clyde Drexler, between Artis Gilmore and Bob Lanier. Some of our choices you’re gonna love, some of them you’re gonna hate. But we did it nonetheless.
And now that I know Bernard King is getting the credit he so richly deserves, I can finally sleep nights.