On Sunday Bernard King caps his remarkable comeback by starting in the NBA All-Star Game. His parents and his doctor will be cheering him at the sold-out Charlotte Coliseum. His brother Albert, meanwhile, will be in Albany, N.Y., trying to save his career.
Albert plays for the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association, and he can't miss practice to see his older brother in person. "We don't get time off for those things," he was saying the other night from a hotel room in Pensacola, Fla. "No special treatment."
So this is where it stands for one of the most heralded schoolboy players in New York City history. The second all-time leading scorer at Maryland behind Len Bias. The 10th overall selection in the 1981 NBA draft by New Jersey.
As the basketball world tries to place Bernard's recovery from reconstructive knee surgery in perspective, there might be no better place to start than with Albert, who hasn't played in the NBA since appearing in 46 games for San Antonio in 1988-89.
Bernard is three years older at 34, one inch taller at 6 feet 7, but Albert was expected to become the better player. "From day one he was never judged as Albert King," a Nets scout once said. "It was always, 'Albert is going to be the next Julius Erving, Connie Hawkins and Marques Johnson.' "
Now it turns out Albert might be remembered mostly for playing the role of accomplice as Bernard picked the lock to the rest of his career. Their five-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week offseason workouts are now legend, but only because of what Bernard has achieved.
Albert was there because he spent last season in Tel Aviv ("I don't run that fast from missiles," he says, grateful to be back). Albert was there because many believe he will never be the same player who averaged 17 points for the Nets in his second NBA season.
"His injuries have compromised him physically to some extent," says Bullets general manager John Nash, who cut Albert in training camp. "When he was young and healthy, before his knee injuries, he was one of the good young small forwards in our league.
"At this point Bernard's knees are probably better than Albert's," Nash says. "[The right one] is rebuilt to the point where a fan can't notice any difference. In Albert's case, I don't think he jumps as well as he once did, and I don't think he has the explosiveness he once did."
To this day, Albert's problems are more nagging than anything else -- "I'd rather go through this than what [Bernard's] gone through," he says. Still, a left knee strain hampered him for nearly a month at Albany. He is just now regaining his form.
Both Nash and Albany coach George Karl believe Albert's best DTC chance of returning to the NBA is with a contending team in sudden need of a veteran swingman. Younger CBA players are usually more in demand; Albany guard Clinton Smith, who joined the Bullets this week, is 26.
"Philosophically, he is fighting against time," Karl says. "I don't think a lot of NBA teams are going to give Albert King a lot of patience, time to get his game back to where it once was. Bernard was a little different. Bernard was a marquee player who drew fans, sold tickets."
Even at his best, Albert was nowhere near the NBA player Bernard is now; in truth, they no longer are worth comparing. Albert can't produce the slashing, improvisational drives that have become Bernard's trademark. And he doesn't hit his jump shot with the consistency necessary for a player his size.
At Albany he's the sixth man on a team that is 34-5, the best record in the CBA. He averages 12.5 points and 5.2 rebounds, and, as he says, "It's a different brand of ball. Everyone's trying to get somewhere else. It's not team-oriented."
It's different, all right: The CBA has not one, but two teams in South Dakota. Albert isn't certain he would return to the league. "That's something I'd have to look at," he says. "But if I have the opportunity to get back to the NBA, that's what I'm going to do."
Says Smith, his former teammate, "I have faith in him. If a team is willing to take a chance, Albert King won't let them down. He believes he's going to make it, and I wouldn't bet against him."
People, smart NBA people, bet against Bernard, but the odds on a second King's contrivance are off the board. There's only one Bernard, and Albert, along with the rest of us, will be watching him on national television Sunday.
"I'm sure the coach won't be that hard on us," he says, "making us practice during the All-Star Game."