Bullets' King even takes Letterman one-on-one

Ken Rosenthal

February 28, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

NEW YORK -- What a priceless moment it was, a "Late Night" lineup featuring host David Letterman, stuntman extraordinaire Super Dave Osborne and director David Lynch.

"Three men on the same show named Dave, for the first time in the history of the program!" Letterman announced at the start of last night's show, barely containing his glee.

One more David -- Cassidy, perhaps? -- and Letterman would have been overcome by it all. But the name of his third guest was Bernard, and Letterman wasn't about to poke fun. Not when the man's last name was King.

Here's the latest proof that Bernard King's comeback is truly amazing: Letterman mostly played it straight with him last night, listening intently as the Washington Bullets' All-Star forward recounted his wondrous tale.

Cher would have been envious.

Not that the segment was devoid of interruption. As King explained how he chose the doctor to perform his reconstructive knee surgery in 1985, he pushed Letterman's curiosity past the breaking point.

"Did you ever ask one of the doctors, 'Which operation will help me become a free agent?' " Letterman asked, overlooking the constraints of the NBA salary cap, but drawing a big laugh nonetheless.

As we shall see, it was Bernard who carried the discussion, a rarity for a Letterman guest. He had been on the show once before, in his previous life with the Knicks. He knew the deal.

"I watch him every night," King said just before the taping, relaxing before the show in the legendary Green Room (it's actually gray). "You never know what's going to happen with Dave. It's a fun show."

Of course, it's not Arsenio Hall, the official late-night show of the NBA elite (Tom Chambers appeared Tuesday, Akeem Olajuwon last night). But King said he'll rap with Arsenio "before the year's out." Woof, woof.

Letterman, of course, is New York clever to Hall's L.A. cool, and a tired King realized he might be vulnerable after playing a career-high 56 minutes the previous night in the Bullets' double-overtime loss to the Knicks.

Who knew what Letterman had in store?

Maybe a Top Ten List of reasons for the Knicks losing Bernard (Suggested No. 1: General manager Al Bianchi said he wouldn't be tricked into signing B.B. King.

Or maybe an updated version of Stupid Pet Tricks featuring Bernard slicing through an assortment of NBA species -- Hornets, Timberwolves and the like.

Alas, the Top Ten List was slightly more topical:

"Top Ten Things Overheard in Kuwait City."

As for Stupid Pet Tricks, there weren't any, but Showtime's Super Dave Osborne amounted to a delightful substitute, offering his own Stupid Human Tricks instead.

Letterman introduced Super Dave as the "greatest superstar daredevil entertainer of our day." Indeed, who else but Super Dave could dive off a platform and completely miss his landing cushion?

Actually, Super Dave was a classic foil. He brought a book he wrote about memory, and upon departing said, "It's a thrill for me. Last night I got to see the great Don King score 44 points. Tonight you've got him on the show."

But it still wasn't time for Don -- er, Bernard -- who slapped palms with Super Dave in the Green Room as Letterman reminded his audience that King would indeed be joining them shortly.

"It's quite a story," Letterman said. "We should try and have him on one night."

As it turned out, King's appearance might have been cut short; no one anticipated Larry "Bud" Melman would surface with a live "CNN" report from Kuwait City.

"I think I'm onto a big story, Dave!" Larry "Bud" cried.

"Let's have it, doughboy!" Letterman shot back.

"I just saw Ted Koppel looting a hardware store!"

The normally serious Bernard, back from a quick trip to makeup, laughed at every line, then chuckled through David Lynch, who gave viewers the address of the ABC executive they need to write in order to save "Twin Peaks."

Finally, it was time.

"You were here years and years and years ago," Letterman said, as if Bernard was something out of a museum of natural history, which come to think of it, he might be.

"You probably don't remember why I was here seven years ago," Bernard said, smiling broadly as he seized the offensive. "Super Dave was out here talking about memory. Let's see how good yours is."

For once, Letterman was speechless.

"Dr. Ruth was sick," Bernard said, beaming.

The laughter faded as the talk turned to his comeback, to basketball. Bernard was such a hit, Letterman overlooked the obvious.

Super Dave Osborne, David Lynch . . . and David Robinson.

Now that would have been a show.

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