Wherever the Washington Bullets make a road stop, one of the first questions asked is: "When will Bernard King play again?"
Seldom, if ever, is the same question raised concerning fellow Bullets forward Mark Alarie, who, like King, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last September and has been on the injured list since the start of the season.
But the surgery is their only common link. King remains the missing superstar while Alarie has become the Bullets' forgotten man.
"I don't feel sorry for myself," said Alarie, "and I really don't feel forgotten by the team. I'm always getting encouragement from Wes [coach Unseld], who had more than his share of knee problems as a player. I don't feel pressured by the Bullets. But I do feel pressure, career-wise.
"I'm working as hard as I can. I push myself to the limit six days a week, to get back to where I was before my knee problems. But if it doesn't happen, I'm prepared for it. I'll have a life after basketball," said Alarie, who majored in economics at Duke.
Before surgery, King was an All-Star, averaging 28.4 points, third best in the league. Alarie was a struggling reserve, his effectiveness reduced last season by persistent pain in his left knee, which shelved him for the final 27 games.
After surgery, King has been allowed to undergo his rehabilitation regimen in his New Jersey home, with his physical therapist and New York Knicks team doctor Norman Scott monitoring his progress. Only on the two occasions the Bullets have played the Nets in the Meadowlands did King appear on the Bullets bench.
Alarie, on the other hand, has had his recovery programmed and monitored by the Bullets' doctors. He appears regularly to observe team practices and also attends all the home games.
"Watching these incredible athletes perform energizes me," he said. "It's easy to work myself to a level to compete with middle-aged athletes at the YMCA. But watching our games, it drives me to get back to where I can compete on an NBA level."
Alarie received encouraging news Monday when an examination indicated his surgery-scarred left knee was 80 percent as sound as his right.
"I have no problem lifting weights or running in a straight line," he said. "But when I cut, slide or jump, I get a shooting pain that tells my mind to stop whatever I'm doing."
Because of the persistent pain, Alarie believes that forecasting a February return is premature. He will undergo further tests in Birmingham, Ala., this week by his surgeon, James Andrews.
"It was Dr. Andrews who also operated on Bo Jackson and Bruce Smith of the Buffalo Bills," said Alarie. "It took Smith over six months to fully recover, and I'm probably on the same kind of timetable."
While recuperating, Alarie has watched rookie Larry Stewart claim a starting job and the steady improvement of third-year forward Tom Hammonds. It has convinced him that it will be that much tougher to reclaim a roster spot.
"Watching a young player like Stewart perform puts extra pressure on me," he said. "If I can't come back and match what he is doing for the team, than, I guess, that makes me expendable."
Two years ago, Alarie was one of Unseld's most valued reserves, filling in at all three frontcourt positions and providing the Bullets with a consistent outside shooting threat.
"Mark gave us another dimension with his shooting touch," said Unseld, "and I think he still could if he recovers."
In addition to the knee, Alarie had caught a stray elbow, resulting in a retinal tear, and he underwent corrective surgery last summer at the Wilmer Eye Clinic.
"I still love the game," he said. "I'm doing everything in my power so that I can play it again."