Twelve consecutive hours of NBA basketball? If there’s a better Christmas present out there, Herman Cain hasn’t invented it yet. Here’s to you and yours enjoying a safe and fulfilling season, regardless of the holiday your faith calls you to celebrate. Right now though, the only religion that matters – okay, not the “only” one, but the one we’re focusing on here – is that which is worshipped in The House That Naismith Built. With five games on the slate for today, including a rematch of the 2011 Finals, the first game of the Mike Brown era in Los Angeles and the regular season debut of “Lob City,” it’d be easy to focus on them.
Instead, let’s take a trip back in time for a moment; 1984, to be exact.
The average movie ticket was $2.50. Hip-hop was in its infant stages. Cocaine was a booming business. Ghostbusters, The Terminator and The Karate Kid were three of the year’s biggest films. Tina Turner had monster hit record with “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” I was still two calendars away from being born. And only days before ’84 came to a close, Bernard King put on quite possibly the greatest Christmas Day performance for a professional basketball player ever. His 60-point effort – which included 40 in the first half! – remains a staple of NBA iconic moments. Obviously, not old enough to see King in his prime, watching hours upon hours of footage and hearing first-hand accounts of the man is how my image of him was crafted.
The same song is sung every time, too.
— “Bernard King could have been one of the best players of all-time, had he never hurt his knee.”
— “He put on a show on Christmas Day 1984 that you had to be alive to truly appreciate.”
— “He was unstoppable on the block.”
— “Do you realize King only played in SIX games over the next TWO seasons because of that injury?”
More than anything, Bernard’s 1984 Christmas is a representation of what he was supposed to be. Tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in 1985, by all accounts, effectively turned his career on its head, and while he was able to hoop for years after the injury, he was never the same player. Keep in mind, he was averaging 32.9 points (in the first 55 games) prior to it. In fact, a simple YouTube search shows the exact moment. Hearing him yell, “Oh, shit!” was both eerie and surreal. And it’s even more surreal he was attempting to block Reggie Theus, of all people.
Footage from the Christmas game shows Bernard dominating the Nets on the block. He was unstoppable, for lack of a better term, and the exhibition is still breathtaking to watch nearly 30 years after the fact. Present-day Knicks faithful imagine Carmelo Anthony built in the same mold for obvious reasons (body type and pure scoring ability being the obvious two) and, quite frankly, that’s exactly who Melo should model his game after.
Something interesting of note is that the Knicks drafted Patrick Ewing in 1985. Imagine a King/Ewing combo. Now take into consideration Melo has Amar’e Stoudamire (one of the better offensive forces of this generation) and Tyson Chandler (the supposed defensive key the Knicks needed) to build something special with in Times Square. He’s also healthy, too. Those are two huge factors Melo has in his favor that King didn’t.
Ask any Knicks die-hard their feelings about Bernard King and there’s generally a huge amount of respect thrown his way for what he did for the franchise, when healthy. He’s a top-five Knick of all time and, pending had he ever brought New York a title, he probably would have found himself on the city’s Mount Rushmore with Biggie Smalls, John Gotty, Jay-Z and PeeWee Kirkland. For Carmelo, aka Bernard King 2.0, his “Christmas Day moment” (at least for now) was Game Two of last year’s playoff series versus the Celtics, which saw him produce a jaw-dropping 42 points and 17 rebounds.
One more interesting parallel between King’s 60 and Melo’s 42? They both lost the game. Merry Christmas, everybody.