He was unbelievable," Dallas Maverick forward Mark Aguirre mumbled, eyes glazed. "Unstoppable. To score 50 back-to-back on the road, that's a roll. He is on a roll. Rolling. Rolling. Rolling."
Bernard King of the New York Knicks indeed was on a roll last week. Playing at San Antonio on the night of Jan. 31, he scored 50 points as the Knicks beat the Spurs 117-113. The next evening in Dallas he deposited another 50—many of them against Aguirre, who fouled out in the fourth quarter of New York's 105-98 victory. If Aguirre's dazed testimony didn't sum up King's remarkable feat, try this on for size: The last NBA player to score 50 or more points on consecutive nights was Wilt Chamberlain, who did it in February 1964 for the San Francisco Warriors. The last player to score 50 or more in back-to-back games was Rick Barry, then also of the Warriors, who accomplished it in February 1967.
King, a 6'7" forward who's in his seventh NBA season after a stellar college career at Tennessee, converted 40 of 58 shots from the field (69%) during his two 50-point games and followed those performances with a 25-point outburst in a 103-95 victory at Houston on Saturday. His play helped the Knicks draw to within 2� games of second-place Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division race.
To put what King achieved last week into sharper perspective, he was averaging only 24.4 points a game, fifth best in the league through last weekend: In each of his explosions he more than doubled his norm. Chamberlain—who scored 50.4 points a game in 1961-62, when he had 100 points in one game—averaged 36.9 in 1963-64, Barry 35.6 in 1966-67. Both seasons came in an era when NBA scores were significantly higher than they are now. For them to have doubled their averages, back-to-back 70-point performances would have been in order. Another factor that makes King's output so noteworthy is that under coach Hubie Brown the Knicks play a very deliberate offense that doesn't lend itself to the running style King prefers.
King had primed himself for last week's outburst with his performance in the All-Star Game a few days earlier in Denver. There he'd scored 18 points in only 22 minutes. From Denver King flew to San Antonio with New York assistant coach Rick Pitino, and during the flight the two talked about the importance of the Knicks' getting off to a good start in the second half of the season. " Bernard was concerned we weren't playing as well against the middle-of-the-road teams as we were against the top teams," Pitino says. Indeed, at the All-Star break New York was 6-2 against the league's elite—Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles—but was only 18-16 against everybody else. King was determined to start the Knicks' stretch drive off with a bang.
For a while against the Spurs it was all King could do to stay even in the scoring column with San Antonio's George Gervin. Gervin oozed his way through every defensive pore for 16 points in the first quarter, exactly what King scored in the period by making his first eight shots. Nine times in the quarter, when either King or Gervin scored, the other would retaliate with a basket or free throws. At one juncture during the period, which ended with New York ahead 37-33, the gunslinging became so rapid-fire that Knicks guard Rory Sparrow walked over to teammate Trent Tucker and whispered, "It looks like it's the shootout at the O.K. Corral."
It isn't uncommon for players on a scoring tear to say that the basket looks larger than normal to them, but King had a different feeling. "I could see and feel everything," he said. "It's almost like an unconscious feeling, as if you're being guided to all the right places at just the right times.
"I got the ball in the positions I like to get it, and I felt all the seams. What I mean by that is that you don't always have to look to see where the defense is, you just feel it and go."
Feeling it and going are two of the things King does best, though he doesn't get to do either very often in the Knicks' methodical offense. "I prefer running to anything," says King, "and my perception level of what's going on in the game goes up when we run. I don't consider myself a creative player in a set offense. I create on the break, and that's where my heart is. I'm born to run. But that doesn't happen to be the best thing for this team. We experimented with it early in the year, and it didn't work."
The Knicks did run more often than usual against San Antonio, but King has become so adept at establishing position along the baseline that he scored all but about a dozen of his points off New York's setup offense. "We don't have a system designed for one-on-one play," King says. "We don't believe in that. I don't believe in that. Everything is done within the system. I think it means more to get 50 within the system than by going one-on-one."