Bernard King to be honored at UK game

Bernard King, considered by some the greatest player in Southeastern Conference basketball history, will have his University of Tennessee jersey retired during Tuesday evening's Vol-Kentucky game.

King's accomplishments as a Vol are legendary. The 6-7 forward from Brooklyn averaged 25.8 points and 13.2 rebounds for his three-year career. He was a three-time first-team All-American and a three-time SEC Player of the Year. He led the league in scoring as a freshman (26.4 points per game) and as a junior (25.8). He averaged 25.2 as a sophomore, finishing second among SEC scorers behind Vol teammate Ernie Grunfeld (25.3).

King and Grunfeld – the so-called "Ernie and Bernie Show" – guided Tennessee to records of 18-8, 21-6 and 22-6 in 1975, 1976 and 1977. The Vols' SEC records during those years were 12-6, 14-4 and 16-2. Tennessee ranked 13th nationally at the conclusion of King's sophomore year and 15th at the conclusion of his junior season.

Electing to bypass his senior year at UT, he turned pro and went on to enjoy a spectacular 14-year career in the National Basketball Association. He averaged 22.5 points per game, leading the league in scoring (32.9 ppg) in 1985 as a member of the New York Knicks.

King reportedly will attend Tuesday's game. If so, it will mark only the second time he has visited Knoxville since his college days ended 30 years ago. As a member of the Washington Bullets he played an NBA exhibition game against the Boston Celtics at Thompson-Boling Arena in 1988.

The timing of King's return couldn't be more appropriate. He despised Kentucky, Tuesday's opponent, due to an ugly incident that occurred his freshman season. As the Vols left the court at Rupp Arena following an 88-82 loss, Big Blue fans pelted King with debris and verbal abuse. Moments later he told the assembled media: "They will NEVER beat us again as long as I play at Tennessee."

Sure enough, the Wildcats never did. The Vols won 103-98 in Knoxville one month later, then swept Kentucky in 1976 and '77.

There are two more reasons Tuesday represents perfect timing for King's return.

For one thing, Big Orange vs. Big Blue usually attracts a near-sellout crowd. For another, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl undoubtedly believes the fan fervor created by King's appearance will help motivate the Vols.

One year ago, Tennessee held a late-season ceremony honoring former coach Ray Mears and long-time broadcaster John Ward, two of the most beloved figures in the history of UT sports. That ceremony also was held prior to the Tennessee-Kentucky game.

Probably just coincidence, right?

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