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While the likes of Benson, Denver's LaGarde, Kansas City's Otis Birdsong and Los Angeles' Kenny Carr have been set back by injuries; while Ballard and Boston's Cornbread Maxwell have been stifled by erratic playing time; and while Guard Norm Nixon of the Lakers, big men James Edwards of Indiana and Jack Sikma of Seattle, and little men Charlie Criss and Eddie Johnson of Atlanta have played surprisingly well; King, Johnson and Davis have become instant legends.
It is difficult to imagine any three men playing the same position so differently. King: the inside terror from Tennessee, posting up down low, receiving the pass, and—Whoop! Faster than he can enunciate "With regard to this dazzling move I am about to protrude on your consciousness," King turns, jumps and delivers, in NBA parlance, "a facial" over his defender.
Johnson: the golden strongboy out of UCLA, hurling his magnificent body through the rafters to grab another rebound—Boom!—and, where altogether impossible, jamming another thunderous dunk—Boom! Boom!—as Milwaukee fans approach delirium.
And Davis: the whippet from North Carolina, firing into the lanes on the fast break; making the play with an immaculate, wire-hanging pass or receiving one himself; pulling up on the dead run and accelerating into the air, and—Whoooosh!—an automatic two.
Whoever invented the absurd term "small forward" could not have imagined any of these disparate, yet elegant, players at work. Perhaps the only way to describe the variety of their styles is to communicate in onomatopoetic sounds. Whoop! Boom! Boom! Whoooosh!
The assumption that King has had the most difficult task—breaking in with a broken-down team—does not actually stand up. Double your teammates' ability, double your pleasure, double your fun, yes. But also double your chances against playing the minutes you need to show your stuff. This is why Johnson's exploits on a pretty good Milwaukee team are probably more impressive than King's with the Nets, and why Davis' accomplishments on a very good Phoenix club earned him a berth in the All-Star Game (and probably the Rookie of the Year award) while the other rookies stayed home.
King, however, is deserving of sympathy because of the guilt he bears by association with the pitiful Nets and his entrapment in Joisey, although, as he has pointed out, "I don't find New Jersey off-hand to be an atmosphere whereas it dictates to a player that they can't feel they're in the NBA." Hooray!
The opposition has felt King's presence often. As the Nets have rolled to their 12-42 record—at one point losing 16 straight—King has scored 39 points against Los Angeles, 44 against Phoenix and 41 against Philadelphia while much of the time being guarded (?) by Julius Erving. "This guy moves away from the ball, not toward it," says Dr. J. "He backs away, and that allows him to get open, where he is deadly." Can he be stopped? "Only time will fell," says Erving.
The 6'7" King is not as sharp a shooter as Davis nor as devastating a rebounder as Johnson. What he has are the quickest hands since Mandrake and a unique ability to collect all the garbage and shove it back in the basket. "King is John Drew with brains," says one NBA player, who also recognizes that Bernard is double-teamed every time he so much as whispers.