During his playing days, Hall of Famer Bernard King was one of NBA’s fiercest competitors. But, his unbridled passion on the court came from a dark place at home.
Growing up in a small apartment in hard-nosed Fort Greene during the 1960s and ’70s, King had an abusive relationship with his mother. He detailed his anguish in his autobiography “Game Face: A Lifetime of Hard-Earned Lessons On and Off the Basketball Court,” which releases Tuesday.
“I found a place mentally to go to escape the pain,” King told amNewYork while promoting the book. “In escaping the pain, that was the face that I fashioned in interacting with my mother. That’s where my game face comes from, to defeat the pain.”
Basketball was his distraction from the moment he first shot a ball as a third-grader at P.S. 67. He became one of the city’s best players at Fort Hamilton High School, all the while struggling internally.
“What you see on the cover is not always what’s inside,” he said. “The turmoil existed within, but you never saw it manifest itself, but it certainly was there each and every time I stepped on the court.”
His personal insecurities grew at the University of Tennessee, where he experienced racism in the deep South. The shy kid from Brooklyn turned to alcohol as an escape, a habit that followed him to the NBA.
In 1979, he was traded by the New Jersey Nets despite being, at 22, one of the top young scorers in the league.
“When you’re traded, that wakes you up,” he said. “There has to be something other than basketball that impacts an organization to the extent that they decide to trade you.”
He then underwent treatment, winning comeback player of the year with the Golden State Warriors in 1981. He again revived his career in the late ’80s after losing two years to a torn ACL suffered while with the New York Knicks in the prime of his career. Neither could’ve been accomplished without first picking up a basketball in Fort Greene.
“I am still the same little kid that was standing underneath the basket looking up, always looking up,” he said. “Always looking to build, grow and be better every day.”