Stacey King, journalism major and media darling, has stopped talking. This is news. KING MUTED! OKLAHOMA'S GABBY CENTER RENDERED MOMENTARILY MUM. The cause of the pause is the question he has just been asked: How would he write the lead to the story of his life?
Within a minute or so, over an untouched hamburger at lunch in Norman, Okla., King recovers. "I'd make people cry about me," he says. "I'd write about all the problems I had, and then, whoosh! It'd be like: 'Stacey King, battling back from adversity, grade problems, not being able to play, finally got his chance.' "
A promising start. Since getting that chance last season, when he moved back into the starting lineup, the 6'10" King has become the kind of player made for the pros—and for prose. He was rarely at a loss for anything in 1987-88: points (22.5 a game), rebounds (8.6 a game), blocks (100, a school record), nicknames (the King, the Pearl, Sky, the Juggernaut, Ceramic—take your pick), Sooner victories (35 in 39 games) or words.
Especially words. Ask for an autograph and you'll get a page-long preamble. Ask a question and the answer will be multiple choice. The King is warming to the assignment now:
"I'd say, 'Here's a guy who has everything going for him. He'll probably be a millionaire, and he handles everything in order. He's a regular guy, doesn't go around driving a sports car or borrowing money. Just a guy who doesn't want to be on a pedestal. A guy who has fun."
But it wasn't always fun, as he's quick to point out. As a second-semester freshman, King lost his eligibility, largely because he didn't make it to classes as a first-semester freshman. "When Jack Frost was nipping at my toes, I was in bed," King says. "My mom said, 'Boy, you'd better go to class or you'll be sitting down next semester,' but I didn't listen to her. And sure enough—boom!—I'm sitting on the sidelines in my street clothes, cheering like a cheerleader."
The King family of Lawton, Okla., is not fond of excuses, and it wasn't having any from Stacey. His father, James, is a former defensive end at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., and an artillery first sergeant who served 25 years in the army, including two tours in Vietnam. On one of those tours he earned the Soldier's Medal for bravery when he drenched himself in water to battle a fire that was threatening to blow up a munitions dump. James is the strong, silent type, though some would say he has no choice in the silent part. Stacey's mom, Lois, isn't shy when it comes to speaking her mind. When, as part of its recruiting strategy, Oklahoma sent a wine-red limo to pick up Stacey at Lawton High without consulting his mother, Lois was livid. "We want him to work hard and get a good education and not think that life is a bed of roses when most of the time it's a bed of thorns," she said.
"My mom was a real hit in the newspapers," Stacey says. "She said, 'I don't want my baby to go to Oklahoma. I want him to be able to read a stop sign.' "
So Lois was hardly happy when Stacey's grades dipped. "We didn't have a Leave It to Beaver-type conversation," says Stacey. She sat him down with a pen and a piece of paper, made him write one list of goals and another of priorities and then had him explain both to her. The goals included graduating on time and developing each year as a person both on and off the court; the priorities were studying hard, not worrying about peer pressure and understanding the value of his education.
"I told him, 'Anytime you think you might want to get off on the wrong track, you take these out and look at them and say I wrote these for my mother,' " Lois says. King made the dean's list the next semester, and his grade point average is now a respectable 2.6.