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It seemed nearly impossible to stop Bernard King from scoring. He either bulldozed his way into the paint or pulled up for a patented fall-away jumper. So to further the odds in a defender feeling helpless, the former Warriors forward spent each offseason adding an extra move.
So even if he cemented himself as a bruising forward and dependable jump shooter en route to a Hall of Fame career, King argued he would have made the necessary requirements to thrive had he played in the modern NBA.
"My process would’ve been the same," King told Bay Area News Group. "When I entered the NBA, I didn’t have a jump shot beyond 15 to 17 feet. I expanded that. I wasn’t able to handle the ball on the open floor when I first entered the NBA. I evolved as a player. By the time I left the game, they said I had the best mid-range shot in the game. I developed every single year."
Therefore, King said "it would not have been a problem whatsoever" to develop a 3-point shot. After all, King often spent time in the gym diversifying his scoring by using unconventional methods. He took shots with his eyes closed to prepare himself against big men that held a size advantage in height and wingspan. He practiced shots one-handed so he could make off-balance shots. He also took shots falling down so he could still score after drawing contact.
"My game was well thought out," King said. "I was an analytical player. I didn’t believe what was creative. So I became an analytical player."
King provided plenty of analysis in his new book, "Game Face: A Lifetime of Hard-Earned Lessons On and Off the Basketball Court." There, King charted a 14-year NBA career that featured as many twists and turns as his numerous stops in New Jersey (1977-1989, 1992-93), Utah (1979-80) Golden State (1980-1982), New York (1982-87) and Washington (1987-91).
After dealing with personal problems that included drug use, the Jazz traded the Golden State Warriors for Wayne Cooper and a second-round draft pick in 1980. The deal excited former Warriors coach Al Attles, whom King said had been scouting that previous summer in pickup games in Los Angeles. The deal also excited King, who saw his stint in Golden State as the last chance he needed to salvage his NBA career.
King did not waste any time. Without any assurances of a starting job, King spent training camp taking that position from Purvis Short. King recalled that happened on the first day of practice when he "dominated" Short.
"I knew I was a tremendous dominant player. So it was my responsibility, if I wanted the job, I had to take the job," King said. "That’s how professional sports work. I love Purvis to this day. But when I walked into that camp, I walked with the idea in mind I was going to take the small forward position."
Once King took that position, he said that "Purvis had no problem shifting to the backup role at all; we always maintained a great friendship." King soon found other sources that contributed to what he called "a favorable environment" in Golden State.
King liked the Western Conference’s open style of play. King considered the Bay Area "one of the most beautiful places in the world." King thrived off the partnership with forward World B. Free. And King largely credited Attles for remaining "a wonderful, open and spiritual person."
"Al Attles was more than just a coach. He was your friend," King said. "As a coach, he understood the game and was able to coach the game. So you learn from him. He was one of the guys and I considered him a friend. So he was really open and he was someone you could always talk to."
And as a result, King had what he called "a rebirth of my basketball career." After averaging a career-low 9.1 points in 19 games in Utah (1979-80), King became prolific for Golden State in 1980-81 (21.9 points on 58.8 percent shooting, 6.8 rebounds) and 1981-82 (23.2 points on 56.6 percent shooting, 5.9 rebounds). After winning the NBA’s Comeback Player of the Year award in 1981, King landed on his first NBA All-Star team in 1982.
King did not exactly experience any fairytale endings, though, with the Warriors. To this day, he remains frustrated the Warriors fell one game shy of making the NBA playoffs in an outcome that became official on the last game both in 1980-81 (39-43) and 1981-82 (45-37). King mostly attributed that to the Warriors’ young roster, and their struggle with adapting to their conditioning late in the season.
"Players were a little bit more fatigued. So the game is not as physical as it once was," King said. "But once you get to that last month of the season, it shifts again to a more physical game. Sometimes players, because of their lack of experience, they don’t make an adjustment to the new landscape of basketball."
Despite their mutual affection for each other, King and Golden State did not secure a long-term future.
King sensed a turning point when the Warriors declined negotiating an extension despite his breakout performances against some of the NBA’s top small forwards in Julius Erving and Larry Bird. So without assurances with his future, King signed an offer sheet with the New York Knicks, while holding out hope that the Warriors would match. Despite their publicly stated intentions to do so, the Warriors wound up trading King to the Knicks instead. There, King continued his strong play as he averaged at least 20 points through four NBA seasons, including posting a career-high 32.9 points per game in the 1984-85 season with New York.
King said his "heart was being tugged into two different directions" amid his affection for Golden State and excitement for playing in New York before a hometown crowd.
"I wanted to continue my career and possibly live the rest of my life in the Bay Area. It just didn’t happen," King said. "I’ll never forget my heartfelt time in the Bay Area. I had developed a great relationship with the fans. It was special to be out there in that time of my life."
King also considered it special that the Warriors honored him during a regular-season game in the 2013-14 season following his Hall-of-Fame induction. Then, King spoke with Warriors guard Stephen Curry about his father, and complimented him on something that has dazzled Warriors fans during his nine-year NBA career.
"Dell Curry was one of the greatest shooters in basketball history, but Steph has been taking that shooting to a whole other level," King said. "I can see he learned a great deal by being there through all of his [father’s] games growing up. It was wonderful playing against his dad. But watching Steph Curry is remarkable with what he’s been able to achieve. The way he shoots the ball five feet beyond the 3-point arc, that’s unimaginable . To me at least."
For a player, though, that prided himself on diversifying the way he scored, King maintained he would have adjusted well enough to what the modern game requires.
"It’s all a matter of having a basketball IQ," King said.