The NBA / Sam McManis : Knicks' King Weighs Effects of Surgery, Then Decides to Risk It

April 02, 1985

The medical journals Bernard King read daily in his hospital room could only give him clinical facts about the effects of knee injuries.

The three orthopedic specialists he consulted offered opinions, not definitive answers.

Players who had suffered knee injuries couldn't give King any help, either.

In the end it was up to King, the New York Knicks' All-Star forward, to decide whether to have surgery on his right knee, which he injured 10 days ago in Kansas City.

Doctors had told King that, without surgery on a torn ligament and torn cartilage, he would definitely lose some of the ability and mobility that enabled him to win the NBA scoring championship this season. But King also had heard stories of players whose careers were ended after undergoing similar operations.

Either way, King knew he was taking a chance. After taking a week to think it over, King decided to have the surgery. Monday morning, Dr. Norman Scott operated on King's right knee, repairing a shredded anterior cruciate ligament and removing part of the cartilage. The operation itself was called successful, but no one knows whether King's comeback ultimately will be.

"He doesn't want to come back strong," Scott said before the operation. "He wants to come back a superstar."

That is what King has become this season. When he suffered the knee injury, King was averaging 32.9 points a game, almost four more than his nearest rival. Even though King has played in only 55 games--the minimum requirement is 70--he still will win the scoring title because he has scored more than 1,400 points. King's total is 1,809.

Whether King will be capable of defending his title will depend on how the knee responds to surgery. Among those whose careers were cut short by similar knee injuries are Billy Cunningham, Doug Collins and Campy Russell.

King was somewhat encouraged after talking with the Lakers' Mitch Kupchak, who is playing again after similar surgery and a long rehabilitation process.

Scott said King probably will have a better chance of recovery than players who underwent the operation in the past.

"Medical science is not stagnant, it changes," Scott told Newsday's Gary Binford. "There are things that we do different than we did four or five years ago. Each year the (surgical) subtleties start improving. . . . I might be accused of being optimistic, but I think Bernard will recover very well."

Add King Family: Bernard has played his best games against the Nets this season--scoring a season-high 60 points in one game. His brother, Albert, stole a page from Bernard's book last Saturday, when the Knicks and Nets played at Madison Square Garden. Albert King, who plays for the Nets, scored a season-high 28 points in his best performance this season.

The other King also has been bothered by injuries. He has missed 34 games with injuries to his back, groin and shoulder, although not all at the same time.

"I'm still trying to get my body into shape," Albert King said. "Hopefully, all these injuries are behind me. I've had to work on my game on my own. Bernard's taught me a lot. Just by watching him on television, I've learned."

Correction: In last week's NBA column, it was reported that the players' association was considering asking players to donate to the famine relief fund in Ethiopia the $600 checks they received when the per diem was raised from $32 to $39. Clipper forward Junior Bridgeman, president of the players' union, said it already has been done by many players.

"We voted at the All-Star game to do that," Bridgeman said. "The last time I checked, we had about 150 guys donate the checks, which was only about $400 or $500. Eleven of the 12 guys on our team did it."

Bridgeman said that, by the end of the season, the players will have raised between $50,000 and $65,000 for Ethiopia.

The Seattle Times is running the standings in reverse order, showing the teams in contention for the seven spots in next month's draft lottery, first prize in which will be Georgetown's Patrick Ewing. So far, the SuperSonics have been able to hold off the Phoenix Suns for the final spot in the Pool For Pat, but both teams are putting on late-season pushes.

Phoenix, playing lately with three starters out with injuries, has lost 9 of its last 10 games, but has held on to the eighth and last Western Conference playoff spot because Seattle had lost seven straight going into Monday night's game against Houston.

There has been talk that both Seattle and Phoenix are purposely trying to miss the playoffs to get a shot at Ewing, instead of almost certain first-round playoff elimination by the Lakers.

The reason for the draft lottery was to avoid rumors of teams purposely losing to get the first pick. Some have grumbled that Houston did just that to get the opportunity to draft Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olajuwon. Now, instead of rumors of one or two teams trying to lose, there are rumors of three or four teams doing it.

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