EMMITSBURG -- It is one of those inspirational stories favored by Hollywood scriptwriters, but the way the plot line is developing in the Washington Bullets' training camp, it is conceivable that Albert King will replace his older brother as the starting small forward this season.
Bernard King, who led the Bullets in scoring and was an NBA All-Star selection last season, will likely not return to action until December after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last month. But he was here for the opening of training camp, cheering on Albert as he easily outdistanced the other 15 Bullets candidates competing in the annual 1 1/2 -mile run.
"Bernard has always given me great support," said Albert King. "But right now he's concentrating on getting his knee rehabilitated and playing again. I have to take care of myself, and earn my way back into the NBA."
Albert King, 31, has taken a circuitous route to Washington, having spent the past two years playing in Israel and for the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association after eight NBA seasons.
"I played on a CBA championship team in Albany that lost only seven games all season and won 20 in a row," he said. "But scouts place a lot of faith in statistics. I only averaged 14 points, but I've never been a selfish player. It just makes it that much harder to prove that you can still play in the NBA after being away for a while."
Albert carefully assessed the odds this summer, and decided his best chances of returning to the NBA rested with the Bullets.
"It's really simple," said the former All-American from Maryland who shattered the school scoring records. "The Bullets have nine guys under contract. That tells me they need to fill three spots, and two of those are up front."
No one could fault Albert's thinking. With knee surgery shelving his brother and reserve forward Mark Alarie and the continued absence of power forward John Williams, Bullets coach Wes Unseld is giving Albert King every opportunity to make the team.
He has done nothing to hurt his chances, consistently hitting his jump shot and fitting in neatly with the relentless running game of the revamped Bullets.
His major competition at the small forward spot will come from free agent Larry Stewart of Coppin State and Tommy Hammonds, a frontcourt reserve the past two years.
Albert King flunked a trial with the Bullets last June, but Unseld said there has been a startling improvement in his performance in the opening days of camp.
"He doesn't even look like the same guy to me," said Unseld. "Albert is in fantastic shape and has a full understanding of what we're trying to do offensively."
Last year, there were extenuating circumstances in his failing a bid for the Bullets roster.
"We had lost Jeff Malone in a trade," said Unseld, "so we had Albert trying to make it as a shooting guard, and that's not his natural position. Now he's back where he belongs."
It has been a long, frustrating comeback for Albert King, a schoolboy basketball legend from Brooklyn, N.Y., who became the protagonist of the book "Heaven Is A Playground" and the object of an intense recruiting battle, won by Lefty Driesell of Maryland.
King was the No. 1 draft choice of the New Jersey Nets in 1981, the 10th player selected overall. At the time, then-Boston Celtics general manager Red Auerbach thought so highly of the springy forward that he said he was willing to give up his first draft choice and two second-round choices for a chance to draft him.
Albert King had five solid, if unspectacular, years for the Nets, playing up front with former Maryland teammate Buck Williams before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1987. By 1988, he was an obscure, seldom-used substitute for the San Antonio Spurs.
Nagging injuries and steadily declining statistics had him scurrying for a job wherever he could find one.
"I could make up a lot of alibis about having knee problems and a sore back, but making excuses has never been my style," he said. "Pro scouts want to know 'What have you done lately?'
"I've got to prove I'm good enough to play in the NBA again. Playing for Washington and with Bernard is my ultimate dream, but this is harsh reality. I still have to make it all happen."
NOTES: Bullets management did not respond yesterday to charges by Williams' agent, Fred Slaughter, that the team reneged on a promise to pay the forward his full salary once he reported last season. Slaughter filed a grievance with the NBA Players Association. GM John Nash said of the still-absent Williams, "All he had to do this year was show up in shape." Veteran G Ledell Eackles has been fined for reporting overweight. He is complaining of a sore right foot.