Bernard King on Growing Up in Brooklyn and Writing His New Book

Bernard King spent most of his Hall of Fame playing career as a nonstop scoring machine. Over the course of 16 seasons, he averaged 22 points on 52 percent shooting, while constantly facing double and triple teams. Throughout his time with the Nets, Jazz, Warriors and Bullets, the League knew that he was a 20-point threat. But he put the world on notice as a member of his hometown team.

As a Knick, he led the NBA in scoring during the 1984-85 season, pouring in 32.9 points per game. King was unguardable and had nights where he went off for 60, 55 and 52 points. He also had ten 40-point outings and 20 30-point efforts. He was unguardable.

He learned the game on the streets of Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, just a few miles from Madison Square Garden. A handful of years before he electrified the city, he used New York City’s outdoor courts as a way to get better.

“The park represents so many things,” King, now 60, says. “For me, it represented a place that I could go and play basketball and disappear from the elements all around me. I became so engaged into the game that I did not pay attention to anything that was going on in my surroundings. That was the foundation of playing on the playgrounds of New York City. Not only in Brooklyn but throughout all of New York. It taught me discipline, it taught me to reach for the stars. That was my aim: to be great at whatever it [was] I did. Basketball was something I wanted to be great at.”

King accomplished his goal. He was named to four All-NBA teams, four All-Star Games and was named inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. With all of those accolades under his belt, he wants to help people achieve their dreams the way he did. So he’s written Bernard King Game Face: A Lifetime of Hard-Earned Lessons On and Off the Basketball Court Book.

“I never wanted to write just another basketball biography,” King says. “I wanted to be able to share all of my life. I’ve always been a very private person. A light went off one morning at two in the morning, reflecting back. I started to think about my journey all the way from Brooklyn. My daughter was entering college and she was leaving the nest. It was a time for reflection and looking back. I realized that I have an important story to tell. I think my journey is a journey that many people can relate to. It might even help somebody that’s traveling on a similar path through life. Within my story, the reader will find themselves.”

King never spent much time speaking to the media as a player. He did his job and went about his business, because, as we learned later, he had been through some rough times. The Brooklyn native went down to Tennessee for college, which might as well have been another planet. He dealt with racist cops while he was down south, even though he was a star on the court while wearing the orange and white. He carried those memories with him for years, funneling everything into the game.

“Within the game of the basketball, you learn life lessons,” King says. “You learn the lessons that will be very useful throughout all of your life. You learn how to compete. In this world, in this society, you have to be able to compete. You have to develop a competitive spirit and a competitive fire. Those are some of the things that I learned while playing basketball on the playgrounds of Brooklyn, particularly more than any other borough of the city. My life has been a journey. I never knew what path it was going to take. My goal was always to be the best player at every single level that I played on. I prepared myself and I conditioned myself.”

The ever-polite King speaks with a patience that’s been refined by a lifetime’s worth of experience. He’s calm and sure of everything he says, even-keeled. The Hall of Famer’s voice picks up a little, though, when thinking back to those days in the county of Kings.

“I talk about, in the book, running across the Brooklyn Bridge as a young kid,” he says. “I was always looking up. That really set the tone, that year, when I started running across the Brooklyn Bridge and engaging in that environment. Running across those wooden planks and thinking ahead to what I wanted to do. It was a beautiful time in my life.”

Bernard King’s book signing at the NBA 5th Ave. Store is today, Monday, from 4-5 pm. 

Max Resetar is an Associate Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @maxresetar.