It helps, of course, that the Knicks usually get the ball to King in the low post, a spot in which he can make maximum use of his unique ability to turn and get off his jumper—he fires it with the fastest release in the league—even when guarded by several men larger than he. It's also a spot from which he shoots almost unerringly. Says Sparrow, who spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday keeping his eye upon the King, "If you get him the ball on his spot and he misses twice in a row, you feel he's off."
King was rarely off against San Antonio, but he did cool down considerably late in the third quarter when the Spurs removed forward Gene Banks, who had held King to a measly 40 points, and tried rookie Fred Roberts on him. Starting shortly after Roberts entered the game and continuing until the Knicks had blown a nine-point lead and trailed 110-105, King went 12 minutes, 59 seconds without a point. Roberts was fresh and played the by-now tiring King as if the NBA title were on the line, which King says "took me a while to adjust to. I looked up at the clock with four or five minutes left, and I said, 'My goodness, we've worked too hard to lose this game.' I was tired, but I just picked myself up another notch."
In the span of 36 seconds, beginning with 3:45 left to play, King rebounded a Sparrow miss and went back up over 7'2" Artis Gilmore for a score; faked Roberts to the right and spun left for a 10-foot jumper; and then finished the flurry with his signature move, a turnaround eight-foot jumper from the baseline that put the Knicks up 111-110 and left the Spurs gasping.
After the game, King's teammates presented him with a couple of bags of ice for his shooting arm, possibly a more symbolic act than they realized, considering that Gervin, the Iceman, had himself bagged 41 points. The Knicks also threatened to call substitute forward Louis Orr, who was home with the flu, and beg him to come to Dallas for their game the next night, so that Brown could keep his second unit intact. After all, it was Orr's absence that had made it necessary for King, who at the All-Star break was averaging 34.1 minutes a game, to play 44 minutes against the Spurs and 41 versus the Mavericks. Too, with guard Ray Williams out for both games with a turned ankle, King felt he should shoulder a greater offensive burden.
King says he isn't superstitious, but just to be on the safe side, when he arrived in Dallas he ordered from room service the same meal, a breast of turkey sandwich and a vanilla milkshake, that he'd ordered in San Antonio the day before. And exactly 10 minutes before the start of the pregame team meeting in the locker room, King went out on the floor to shoot around. He had done the same a day earlier. "I tried to follow the pattern I'd used in San Antonio," he admitted somewhat sheepishly. But he had some logic working in his behalf: "Some of my best performances have come in the second of back-to-back games," he says. "I usually feel better the second night."
Well, this second night he was merely as good as he'd been the previous evening. In fact, he seemed less proficient. This may have been history's first "quiet" 50. "You can't say he's spectacular," Brown said after the game. "You think he has 18 points, and when you look up he has 32. Tonight when I heard he had 48 toward the end of the game, I couldn't fathom it." Even Sparrow, who had 14 assists against Dallas, was shocked. "I didn't realize he had 50," Sparrow said. "In San Antonio, Bernard scored points in mass quantities. But in the Dallas game it was more a matter of grinding out 50 points. That is, if you can grind out 50."
In grinding it out, King just went about his business, establishing position down low. "Everybody in our offense knows that when Bernard gets the ball, he's going to get it on the baseline nine out of 10 times," says Pitino. "His are never easy points. He gets elbowed on the screens; when he catches the ball he gets hit. [Maverick coach] Dick Motta said after he had watched film of our game with Dallas that Bernard didn't see the basket on half of his shots."
King prefers contact with other players under the basket; it gives him a sense of where the defenders are. "He beats me up more when he's on offense than when he's on defense," says Laker forward Jamaal Wilkes.
Against Dallas, King didn't get his 49th and 50th points until seven seconds left in the game, and this basket was the only one in either game on which the Knicks purposely fed King the ball to fatten his point total. Sparrow was dribbling out the clock when the Knicks on the bench began screaming at him to give the ball to King, which he did. King took the pass at the three-point circle, dribbled left and, when he pulled up 22 feet from the basket, Dallas' Jay Vincent was there to cut him off. "I just said to myself, 'I'm not missing this one,' " King said later. With that, he spun to the right and launched a softly arcing jumper.
"I've played with the same consistency, desire and intensity this season as I've played with my entire career," says King, who's only now beginning to realize his full potential. "So if that means this is a particularly good time in my life, well, it sure the hell is. This is a pretty good time for Bernard King."