Play me or release me, angry King tells Bullets Pollin says forward won't dictate decision

January 13, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- Bernard King issued an ultimatum to the Washington Bullets yesterday: Immediately reactivate him or release him so that he might be signed by another NBA team.

"I've never seen a ballclub fault a player for returning from an injury and beating the odds. I simply request that a decision be made on my status," King, controlling his obvious anger, said at a news conference.

"If it's their decision to release me, then make this choice. If it is to be a contributing member of this team, then make that choice. The qualities that are considered admirable traits in a ballplayer of my caliber and were celebrated by many in this organization are now considered self-centered."

But team owner Abe Pollin, speaking at halftime of last night's Bullets-Milwaukee Bucks game at the Capital Centre, rebuted King, saying the decision rests solely with coach Wes Unseld.

"[King] won't dictate what he will do on this team," said Pollin, who has been at least co-owner of the franchise since 1964. "I will dictate to the coach, and the coach -- not the players -- will dictate what happens on the court."

Said Unseld: "I'm going to say what I've said all along: I will make the decision when I feel comfortable with it."

King, 36, surprisingly appeared at a team practice on New Year's Day and declared himself fit to play after missing all of last season following knee surgery. He had wanted to be reactivated in time for last night's game.

After Unseld and general manager John Nash determined Monday that more time was needed to assess King's physical condition, King called a news conference a half-hour before game time last night.

"I was informed [Monday] by Wes Unseld that I would not be reactivated," King said. "I've been involved with pro basketball for 15 years, and, during this time, I've never seen a situation like this one between me and the Washington Bullets.

"I'm physically fit to play basketball as determined by their doctors. I've demonstrated in practice that I'm a skilled athlete. I've returned in shape and ready to play. I took time to study the offensive plays and sets so that I could be an effective asset and not a liability. . . .

"Pro basketball is a competitive business, and if the Bullets determine I'm no longer capable of competing in this arena, then a decision should be made accordingly. I've worked awfully hard to make it back, and I don't think that's too much to ask."

Pollin reiterated it was Unseld's decision when and if King would rejoin the team, and "99 percent of the time I agree with the coach.

"It's absolutely not a money thing," the owner added, referring to King's $2.5 million contract. "Wes has nothing to do with money. That's my problem, and [team president] Susan O'Malley's."

Pollin said he has invested more than $8 million the past four years in King, who did not have a lot of teams bidding for him after his first improbable comeback in 1987.

"But I won't be the judge concerning King. It will be up to Wes to decide if it's in the team's best interest to cut somebody when and if Bernard shows he is fit to play."

Pollin seemed to agree with Unseld and Nash that a longer conditioning program is needed.

"I've been involved in NBA basketball for 30 years, and I don't xTC believe a guy can have one practice after being out 18 months and be ready to perform on the pro level," Pollin said.

Said Unseld: "I've only had an opportunity to watch Bernard in 1 1/2 practices. Based on that, I'm not going to make a decision to cut a guy I've asked to pour his heart out for me the last three months. I know Bernard is impatient to play, but we were impatient waiting for him the past year and a half."

The players were more diplomatic.

"I hope personally this won't affect the ballclub," said Pervis Ellison, the veteran center. "Basically, I think our younger players don't care one way or another, except how Bernard's returning might affect their playing time."

Said Tom Gugliotta, the Bullets' lottery draft pick who stepped right into a starting role: "If King comes back, I hope he plans on just blending in with the team."

Nash, who was attending the CBA All-Star Game in Oklahoma City last night, could not be reached for comment.

King, who made a seemingly miraculous comeback from a career-threatening knee injury in 1985, when he was with the New York Knicks, returned to action after a two-year absence and signed as a free agent with the Bullets in 1987. Four years later, the forward regained All-Star status, averaging 28.4 points.

But King underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in September 1991 and has not played since while rehabilitating in New Jersey with his team of doctors and physical therapists.

Unseld said last night that he did not think King's lateral movement in practice last Thursday was sufficient to put him back in uniform.

To make room for King, the Bullets would have to cut one of their 12 players, all with guaranteed contracts. King also is guaranteed $2.5 million this season, plus $500,000 on his option year next season.

The NBA allowed the Bullets to use half of his salary ($1.25 million) as a medical exemption to sign Gugliotta.

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