King wants to be in Bullets' new year Forward says he's ready to play

January 02, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

Wes Unseld and the Washington Bullets experienced their first major surprise of 1993 when former All-Star forward Bernard King appeared unexpectedly at the team's New Year's practice at Bowie State.

King, 36, who has not played since undergoing arthroscopic surgery Sept. 6, 1991, to remove cartilage from his right knee, met with Unseld for more than an hour and revealed his plans to resume his 13-year NBA career.

But Unseld said a number of things must happen before King is reactivated, beginning with a complete physical by the Bullets medical staff, which could take place as early as today.

"I honestly don't know if he is fit to play or not," said Unseld. "Bernard's appearance caught me completely by surprise. I can't work him out until our doctors give their approval, and, as of yet, I don't think we've had a report from Bernard's personal surgeon [Dr. Norman Scott of New York]."

Meanwhile, Bullets owner Abe Pollin issued an upbeat statement: "We're happy to see Bernard King back with the team and excited at the prospect of having him back on the court with the Bullets. Once he has passed a physical examination, Wes Unseld will determine when he is able to play."

If King receives medical approval, the Bullets would have to free a roster spot. All 12 of their players have guaranteed contracts.

The most likely casualty would be Buck Johnson, the small forward who is averaging 3.2 points and 1.9 rebounds in a reserve role. He has not appeared in the past six games.

Johnson, acquired in September as a free agent after four seasons in Houston, filled the salary $550,000 salary slot of Mark Alarie, who, like King, missed all of last season after knee surgery and then opted for retirement.

King, who averaged 28.4 points and regained All-Star status in his last full season (1990-91) for Washington, is on the last year of a two-year contract extension that will earn him $2.525 million this season.

The Bullets, believing he would not return this year based on his condition and progress reports from Dr. Scott, received a league medical exemption for half his salary in October and used it to sign top draft pick Tom Gugliotta.

Unseld and the Bullets last saw King when the team closed its training camp at Shepherd College in West Virginia.

After arriving in a limousine, King, who has shunned interviews during his lengthy rehabilitation, vowed that he would again prove the skeptics wrong and return to action.

"There are question marks in other people's minds, but I'm not concerned about it. I know I'm going to play again," he said.

"I've been down this road before, so I won't place any timetable on myself. It's [his daily rehabilitation ritual] a tedious process, but you just have to be patient, and it's stimulating to overcome a challenge others don't think I can."

King has overcome prohibitive odds before. His career appeared over in 1985, when, as an offensive force for the New York Knicks, he blew his right knee and underwent major reconstrictive surgery that kept him sidelined for almost two full seasons.

The Bullets gambled by signing him to a two-year deal for $2.5 million in 1987. Four years later, he was again an All-Star performer.

At the top of his game, the fiercely determined forward was recognized as one of the NBA's premier one-on-one players. The ability to produce a clutch basket in the closing minutes has been lacking in the Bullets' offense since King's departure.

Unseld's frontcourt of Gugliotta, Harvey Grant and Pervis Ellison has combined for 52.5 points and 24.8 rebounds a game. But King, who is unlikely to return unless he is confident he can compete at the highest level, could provide the missing ingredient to a struggling, young team.

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