Scoring dynamo King once made big assist for Kingsport kid

Pat Kenney • Feb 21, 2007 at 11:45 AM

I never saw Bernard King play basketball for the Vols. The fact of the matter is until coming to Tennessee in 1979 I'd never even heard of the "Ernie and Bernie Show."

Living in central Virginia during the '60 and '70s before the advent of ESPN, my basketball world was centered around whatever was going on at the University of Richmond, Virginia and, once in a while, some remote news from Virginia Tech.

My alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth, was still a work in progress on the basketball court.

Sports fans were totally dependent on what they read in the newspapers and got from three minutes of sports on the local TV news.

Having said all that, when I saw that the Vols were retiring King's jersey last week it reminded me that he and I did cross paths during my sports writing career.

In March of 1991, I traveled to Washington, D.C. on a Friday to do a story on a local boy - a kid named Larry, who was meeting the Boston Celtics' Larry Bird as part of a trip set up by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The entourage traveled by plane while I drove. My niece was getting married the next day in Richmond so I needed transportation of my own.

We all rallied outside the Bullets' locker room where we were told Bird would meet us. They were the Bullets before political correctness and a reputation for gun play in Washington forced the name change to the Wizards.

Bird appeared and spoke with young Larry for a few minutes, gave him a Celtics' hat, T-shirt and a couple of books and was gone.

The Bullets had given us tickets to the game so we just about to head for our seats when out of nowhere a guy appears in a suit and asks us what we were doing there.

It was King.

We told him we'd come all the way from Tennessee to meet Bird. A smile broke out on his face as he told us that he had played for the Vols in an exhibition game in Kingsport once.

King, who was injured at the time and not playing that night, introduced himself and then took the time to talk with young Larry. He joked that Bird should have done more, so he took young Larry out on to the court during the pregame shootaround and had all the Celtics, including Bird, sign young Larry's hat.

King asked us where we were sitting for the game and saw that our tickets were pretty high up. He called someone from the public relations department and had them exchange our tickets for something closer to the court.

Bernard had heard me talk about leaving early to head back to Richmond and asked me where I was parked. When I told him, he had me move my car into the players' lot so that I could get out and be on the interstate more quickly.

King even had the PR folks check on us at halftime to make sure we had everything we needed.

All of this from a guy who we hadn't even come to see.

Bernard King had his jersey retired by the University of Tennessee last week. I never saw him play, but I did see him in action.

What a man!

Pat Kenney is executive sports editor of the Times-News. E-mail him at pkenney@timesnews.net.

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