The way history has forgotten Bernard King, you’d think 1984-85 was his only year in the league. You’d think it was the first time he’d dropped 20 per game in a season, instead of the seventh. You’d think he tore his ACL, missed the entire next season, and then never came back in 1991 – at age 34! – to average 28.4 per game and make the All-Star team. No, the way you hear about Bernard these days makes him sound like a flash in the pan who went from never-will-be to has-been with no in between.
I hate to harp on Basketball Reference again, but it’s currently informing me that King is the 69th greatest player ever, two behind Chris Mullin, whom he only outscored by 1,500 and outrebounded by 1,000, all in 112 fewer games. (Also, King is one spot ahead of Chauncey Billups; I can’t say anything rational about that, so I’ll just leave it here.) And I know it’s strange of New York to underrate one of its own, but isn’t that what’s happening here? We’ve successfully canonized the two title teams of the ’70’s, and I’m pretty sure we started naming babies after the ’94 team that didn’t actually win anything – why the hell haven’t we launched a big PR campaign for Bernard? Sure, the Knicks of the early ’80’s didn’t have a ton of success, but King put up either the best or second-best statistical season in franchise history. This isn’t to compare Bernard to Walt or Willis or Ewing, but you would think a city that makes its stars as much as they make themselves would remember Bernard more fondly.
Actually, I’d say the real comparison is Dominique Wilkins. Rightly remembered as a scoring savant, Wilkins was about the same age as Bernard and never won a title. The difference is that Wilkins had longevity; he just kept scoring and scoring and scoring. (Did you remember he played 27 games for the Magic in 1998-99?) If Bernard had stayed healthy he’d be in Wilkins’ range, but just reaching that level, if only for a moment – ’Nique’s highest single-season average, by the way: 30.9 – makes you an all-time great in my eyes. If you don’t agree, check the list of scoring champions and try to come up with some non-Hall of Famers in there. There aren’t any (although Tracy McGrady might give it a run) except Bernard, who had a great career before, during and after 1984-85. We all know about that year, so let’s remind ourselves of the before and the after.