MARCH 17, 1980
When Albert King was 13, he was the focus of a segment on the ABC network evening news. When he was 14, he was featured in the classic book on urban basketball, Heaven Is a Playground. King was a college All-America at 20, an NBA first-round draft pick at 21 and a retired millionaire at 32. Yet in the fall of 1995, at 35, he was mopping bathrooms, wiping tables and manning the till at a Wendy's in Wayne, Pa. "People did a double take," King says. "They were thinking, He played NBA basketball; now he's working at a cash register? What happened?"
That question has dogged King for years. He was barely in his teens when he began carving out his legend on the courts of Brooklyn's Foster Park. By the time he was a senior at Fort Hamilton High in 1976-77, he was being hailed as the best New York City schoolboy player since Lew Alcindor a decade before. But save for some bright moments at Maryland—he landed on the SI cover above after leading the Terps to a couple of early-round NCAA tournament wins—King's accomplishments fell well short of the outsized expectations engendered by his high school career. He played eight nondescript seasons in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers and the San Antonio Spurs, and after spending some time in the CBA and pro leagues in Italy and Israel, he returned for a final, six-game stint with the Washington Bullets during the 1991-92 season. Meanwhile, older brother Bernard, a three-time All-America al Tennessee, had been a four-time NBA All-Star.
After Albert retired he flirted with the idea of entering the real estate business. However, after investing in a Wendy's, he decided he wanted to own a franchise. He began the company's 16-week management training program by working every position as a crew member in Wayne and finished his training at other Pennsylvania franchises in the towns of Thorndale, Harrisburg and North Hanover. It was an enlightening experience in more ways than one. "Some of the North Hanover people told me they liked to go cow-tipping on weekends," King says. "I had never heard of that. We didn't have many cows in Brooklyn."
Today, at 37, King is an owner of a Wendy's in Englewood, N.J., and he hopes to acquire more franchises. As for the disappointment of his pro basketball career, he says, "My life experience has been great. Sure, things could have been better, but I'm not going to let other people's perceptions make or break me. My story has moved on."