King was highly recommended by the Warriors' talent consultant, Pete Newell, who knew King from Newell's Los Angeles summer camp. "Pete kept saying how great Bernard was and how he had his alcohol problem beaten," says Attles. "That was good enough for me, so I asked our general manager, Scotty Stirling, if we could make a deal for him."
San Diego Coach Paul Silas wasn't very interested in keeping Free, who made it known that he'd be very unhappy if his contract wasn't renegotiated, and Utah wanted no part of King. The cost to Golden State was Guard Phil Smith for Free, Forward Wayne Cooper and a second-round draft pick for King. A double steal if there ever was one.
"I really don't see how either deal was risky," says Stirling. "People said, 'How can you win with a guy who scores 30 points a game?' I said, 'Last time we had a guy who scored 30 a game [Barry] we won the championship.' As for Bernard, if the worst possible thing happens, if his problems recur—and I don't believe for a moment they will—what did we lose for giving him a chance?"
"A lot of people are giving me credit for all this 'last chance' stuff," says Attles. "I think that's garbage. It's Bernard and World who deserve the credit. We're just the recipients of their talent."
King now shuns publicity as he doggedly maintains his alcohol-rehabilitation program. "It took the events of a year ago to make me realize for the first time that I had an alcohol problem," he says. "Now I feel sure I can beat it." King is averaging 17.8 points, on 57.3% shooting, and seven rebounds a game.
Free is averaging 27.7 points and is the vocal team leader. When Attles named him captain, he took the role very seriously, saying. "We have four rookies and everybody else is young. They all look up to me. I'm making these guys into monsters. Larry Smith is already one of the best rebounders in the league and I'm going to make him even better. I know how to do it. Rickey Brown and Joe Barry Carroll—look out, I'm going to do for them what I did for Darryl Dawkins in Philly."
The years have taught Free some hard lessons that only his perspicacity and, yes, his pluck could have pulled him through. "I look back at myself as a rookie," he says, "and I remember myself as a crazy young buck. I would say or do anything. I didn't know anything about the politics of pro basketball at the time. I'll never forget the first time I realized this was a business. I was strutting down the court in practice one time, and I did a total Brownsville move. You know, between the legs, spin around, jump out of the gym—but I missed the shot. Sometimes I made them, but this time I missed. Billy Cunningham, who was still a player then, yelled, 'This ain't the park! Make the basket or pass the ball!'
"That's when I started to learn. But it took guys like that to tell me." And they had to tell him more than once, because World kept his smart mouth flapping and approached practice as though it were kindergarten recess. "Some of us would wear funny hats, put our jockstraps on backward outside our pants, say outrageous things to reporters. You could tell me anything and I would say, 'Yes, I am the greatest of all time.' Me and Darryl. Mutt and Jeff, they called us in Boston. We'd try to one-up each other night after night. I'd say I can do this and I can do that, but I never got to play more than 15 minutes a game. I 'd say I was better than Bob Cousy—I never even saw Bob Cousy—and Darryl would say he's better than everyone but God. Everything I said went into the papers. That helped me in one way because I became known, but pretty soon everywhere I went the fans all hated me. That was terrible because I'm very sensitive. I was trying to do the right thing, to give people a good show, because I remembered all the times when I'd cash in Coke bottles to get the money together to go to the Garden to watch the Knicks. I'd be sitting up so high I couldn't even see, but I heard the crowd and I knew I was getting a show."
Free made the most of his playing time. In his second season, 1976-77, he averaged 28.9 minutes and 16.3 points a game, and he singlehandedly took Boston out of the playoffs. Gene Shue, then the 76er coach, knew well what Free could do, but he was forced by practical considerations—Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Doug Collins and Caldwell Jones were all being paid enormous salaries—to stifle Free. "I didn't have the kind of power a coach needs," says Shue. "Lloyd was a fantastic talent. It hurt me to tell him to sit down."
Free understands that now. "Ain't nobody was going to buy tickets to see Lloyd Free at that time," he says. "You know, a man calling himself All-World, who nobody ever heard of? Now, how can you possibly come to the Philadelphia 76ers and call yourself All-World? After that Boston playoff it got better for me, because I played so well."