After the cheering finally ended and Bernard King had taken his last bow for a 44-point performance at the Capital Centre on Saturday night, Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld tried to put the 103-102 upset of the Chicago Bulls in perspective.
"We really needed a game like this to help lift our confidence after the way we performed in Miami [a 119-95 loss]," said Unseld. "This will have a positive carry-over in our practices this week. We know we earned this one."
The inexperienced Bullets trailed the talented Bulls for three quarters, then turned the game over to King, their small forward who will turn 34 on Dec. 4.
This was the kind of game that was made for Bulls superstar Michael Jordan, but King turned their one-on-one duel into a mismatch.
Jordan, normally matched against a guard, wound up playing King in the closing minutes after Bulls forwards Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant fouled out.
King scored 18 of the Bullets' 24 fourth-quarter points, including the final 12, on five jump shots and two free throws, the last breaking a 102-102 tie with 61 seconds left.
Jordan, who has won four straight league scoring titles, rarely has performed well at the Capital Centre. His past problems were attributed to having to extend himself defensively against Jeff Malone. But Malone is in Utah, and the Bullets are using rookies A.J. English and Larry Robinson in his place.
Saturday night, Jordan had no excuses. He played 46 minutes and scored 28 points on 22 shots from the field. But his last field goal -- a dunk off a lob pass -- came with 6 minutes, 44 seconds left.
Jordan had a chance to steal the spotlight from King in the closing seconds. With the Bulls trailing, 103-102, with 18 seconds left, he controlled the ball until there were two seconds remaining. He then exploded through the lane and soared to the rim, but his shot was blocked by Bullets forward Harvey Grant.
King's 44 points were a high mark in his three-plus seasons with the Bullets. He had bigger nights in his vintage years with the New York Knicks, including 60 against the New Jersey Nets in 1984.
But that was before he tore up his knee in March 1985 and underwent almost two years of rehabilitation. Only the Bullets, who signed him for two years at slightly more than $2 million, seemed willing to gamble.
King has been a role model for the younger Bullets with his work ethic. He is the team's best-conditioned player and has improved his statistics each season, from 17.2 points his first season to 20.7 in 1988-89 and 22.4 last season, playing all 82 games for the first time since 1978-79.
Asked if his late dominance of the offense might become common, King said: "It's not good for the team for one man to take so many shots. In time, our younger players will step up and be looking for the ball with the game on the line."