Ernie and Bernie vs. Kentucky

Former Tennessee players Bernard King, left, and Ernie Grunfeld greet the crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena Sunday as Tennessee retired Grunfeld's number during half time of Tennessee's game against Kentucky. Tennessee beat Kentucky 63-60 at Thompson-Boling Arena Sunday.

Photo by Saul Young

Former Tennessee players Bernard King, left, and Ernie Grunfeld greet the crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena Sunday as Tennessee retired Grunfeld's number during half time of Tennessee's game against Kentucky. Tennessee beat Kentucky 63-60 at Thompson-Boling Arena Sunday.

This year celebrates the centennial season of men's basketball at Tennessee. The News Sentinel continues its series looking into the players, teams and events that have molded an exciting history.

From New York City they came. Tennessee basketball never before or since had two players side-by-side like Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King.

The “Ernie and Bernie Show” dazzled for three seasons starting in 1974-75 and closing in 1976-77.

On Feb. 9, 1976, the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine posed Grunfeld with his arm resting on King’s shoulder, under the title “Double Trouble From Tennessee.’’

No one felt that trouble more than Kentucky and coach Joe B. Hall.

The Tennessee-Kentucky rivalry has traditionally been fierce but the arrival of Grunfeld and King took it to another level.

Grunfeld came first, in 1973-74, from Queens, N.Y. A year later, King, straight from the tough streets of Brooklyn, joined him.

King is undisputed as the best player ever in a UT uniform and considered by most to be among the top handful to ever play in the SEC. Grunfeld left as UT’s scoring king with 2,249 points, since eclipsed by Allan Houston.

Grunfeld averaged 22.3 points a game for his four-year career. King averaged 25.8 over his three seasons.

The “Ernie and Bernie Show” made its Lexington debut at Memorial Coliseum on Jan. 13, 1975. Kentucky won 88-82, aided by the fact that King fouled out with 7:17 to play after scoring 19 points. Grunfeld scored 26.

It was a heated affair. Coach Ray Mears campaigned loudly against Kentucky’s “karate defense,’’ which in turn infuriated Hall. Kentucky fans taunted King and oranges, coins and ice were thrown as the Vols left the court. When a lighted cigarette was tossed in King’s hair, he tried to go into the stands. Assistant coach Stu Aberdeen stopped him, after which police roughly handled King while getting him off the court.

He never forgot it and Kentucky never beat him again.

When the Wildcats came to Knoxville on Feb. 15, Tennessee won a thriller, 103-98. Grunfeld scored 29. King, despite a sore knee, scored 24 and pulled down 20 rebounds.

The Vols cut down the nets, but Kentucky got the last word by advancing to the NCAA tournament title game, where they lost to UCLA. UT was relegated to the National Commissioners Invitational Tournament and lost to Bowling Green.

The Vols went back to Lexington in 1976 for another controversial game in their last appearance at Memorial Coliseum. Grunfeld scored 43 points in Tennessee’s 90-88 overtime victory.

King scored 24, including a fantastic falling-down shot that almost won the game in regulation. Kentucky, however, scored at the buzzer (Tennessee thought the clock was slow to start after King’s basket) and forced overtime. No matter, the Vols prevailed.

Afterward, Kentucky made a stink by showing film footage that indicated Grunfeld twice subbed himself for teammates at the free-throw line, once for Irv Chatman in the first half and again for King in the second. For the game, Grunfeld was 11-of-11 at the stripe.

The rematch in Knoxville was another war. Tennessee won 92-85 in a game that featured seven technical fouls and the ejections of UT’s Johnny Darden and Kentucky’s Truman Claytor. Two Lexington Herald-Leader photographers were also ejected.

Grunfeld scored 32, King 22 before fouling out.

An NCAA bid awaited the Vols, but they were upset by VMI in the opening round with King sidelined by an injury. Kentucky won the NIT.

In 1977, with Grunfeld back from the Olympic Games with a gold medal, the Vols made themselves at home in new Rupp Arena with a 71-67 win in overtime over the No. 2-ranked Wildcats. An SEC-record crowd of 23,271 saw Tennessee rally from seven points down in regulation.

Grunfeld scored 22 points; King had 16 points and 19 boards. That made it four in a row for the Vols over the Big Blue.

The final installment came on March 5, 1977, at Stokely Athletics Center. Tennessee was ranked No. 11 and needed a win to get a share of the SEC lead with No. 2 Kentucky.

King rose to the occasion, scoring 36 points. Grunfeld scored only nine, the second-lowest total of his career, but he had 13 rebounds as the Vols countered Kentucky’s Twin Towers inside threat, Rick Robey and Mike Phillips.

Grunfeld was nearly ejected for giving Phillips a pop but got a reprieve. The two players had never liked each other, Grunfeld explained later.

With governors Ray Blanton of Tennessee and Julian Carroll of Kentucky in the crowd, the Vols rallied back from 11 points and got the win to move into a first-place SEC tie with the Wildcats at 15-2.

Two days later, the Vols beat Vandy to clinch a share of the title in the final Stokely appearance of the “Ernie and Bernie Show.’

Sadly for Tennessee fans, the era ended a week later when Syracuse eliminated the Vols 93-88 in a first-round NCAA tournament game.

Grunfeld was a senior and King turned pro after his junior year. Mears also bowed out, finally overcome by the depression he had battled for years.

As running mates, Grunfeld and King scored 4,211 points while leading UT to a 61-20 record.

Both were All-Americans. King won SEC player of the year honors all three seasons, sharing it with Grunfeld in 1977.

Today, their retired numbers hang in the rafters at Thompson-Boling Arena, which would never have been built without the zeal for the program they helped generate.

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Comments » 40

Volunatic writes:

Truly two greats. They were really an incredible 1-2 punch for the Vols.
(That Sports Illustrated cover was framed on the wall of the Lap for many years.)

PennVol writes:

I was unable to find the Sports Illustrated at the time living in Kingsport. They sold out everywhere. I found one on Ebay and few weeks ago and finally got one in great condition (33 years later!).

pj_ladyvolnMI writes:

Loved being in school during their era! Good times!

pj_ladyvolnMI writes:

in response to Kiff_World_Order:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

1:00pm

johnlg00 writes:

Kinda surprising in retrospect that the Bernie and Ernie teams only won about 2/3 of their games! They sure were fun to watch, though. Ironic that that is about what this season's Vols will wind up with while everyone--including me--is slamming them.

LiveFaith writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Kinda surprising in retrospect that the Bernie and Ernie teams only won about 2/3 of their games! They sure were fun to watch, though. Ironic that that is about what this season's Vols will wind up with while everyone--including me--is slamming them.

Thank You. It's amazing what a little perspective can do for fans with skewed attitudes. What Bruce Pearl has done at UT is truly amazing ... "The Vols are tied for first place in the SEC East, and fans are moaning and groaning". And we are considered weak right now. Simply amazing.

LiveFaith writes:

BTW, I remember to this day that battle in 1977 with KYs twin towers and the EB show. It was on edge from the get go. I can still picture KY trying to set up a stack for a baseline inbounds and the officials having to break up King (especially) for squeezing between KY players. It was nearly a fistfight.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to General_Watermelon:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

No question. Still, B&E beat them fairly regularly while, apparently, falling to the "also-rans" at about the same rate as this year's Vols. This is not intended in any way as a slam against B&E OR an endorsement of this year's team, just one of those odd facts one notices.

dlobh writes:

in response to LiveFaith:

BTW, I remember to this day that battle in 1977 with KYs twin towers and the EB show. It was on edge from the get go. I can still picture KY trying to set up a stack for a baseline inbounds and the officials having to break up King (especially) for squeezing between KY players. It was nearly a fistfight.

I attended both Kentucky games that year. The Kentucky fans were scared to death of BK, showing that falling down shot from the year before on their local TV sports shows in Lexington before the game. It was unbelievably exciting to be in Rupp for the first UT/KY game there and come away with a victory.

PennVol writes:

The games with Alabama (Leon Douglas, Reggie King, T.R. Dunn) were just as good as the Kentucky games.

VolJunkie writes:

Good times, good times ...

kyvol98 writes:

The story of the UK loss was told to me by John Ward at a VASF function. The way he told it, as only he could, gave me the sense of being there and goose bumps all over my body. I am so glad Bernie is back in the family. Living here, just outside of Lexington, the mere mention of this duo still puts fear in the UK faithful.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to VolJunkie:

Good times, good times ...

Amen, brother! You, too, PennVol! Those were some darn good Bama teams. We played them twice a year in those days, too. Anybody know how we did against them in the B&E days?

samjrr writes:

Thanks for the memories.

Go4Two writes:

Fun I was at the UCLA game in Atlanta...BK maybe the best player in SEC history.

pvtoe writes:

in response to jcvet:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Why would you call our guys thugs? They have nothing to deserve that. I dont see a Tony Harris out there. They may like to shoot too much but that dont make them thugs. Go be a Gator fan!!!!!

stevefrommemphis writes:

The article fails to mention some details that make the 1976 game in Knoxville one of my favorite Vol victories ever. Believe it or not, Tennessee was down to eight players dressed out, and Truman Claytor was a 3rd string Kentucky freshman, I believe. I'll always believe Kentucky intentionally sent in a guy from the end of the bench to start the fight to get UT's only point guard kicked out of the game. Typical Kentucky. After King fouled out and Doug Ashworth got injured, Tennessee was briefly down to only five players available with nobody on the bench. Ashworth returned quickly to add a 6th man.

The 1977 game at Knoxville was also a war. When Tennessee took the lead in the 2nd half after being so far behind and Kentucky called time out, I thought old Stu Aberdeen was going to jump out of the gym, he was so excited.

Let's go to corRUPPt Arena tomorrow and beat the $##^ out of that outfit. Kentucky, where they don't teach their children the REAL history of Kentucky basketball - a tradition of winning built on a foundation of corruption by Adolf corRUPPt.

PennVol writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Amen, brother! You, too, PennVol! Those were some darn good Bama teams. We played them twice a year in those days, too. Anybody know how we did against them in the B&E days?

UT was 3-5 against Bama from '73-74 thru '76-77. With B&E playing together, we were 3-3. Grunfeld was 0-2 during the '73-'74 season before King arrived.

volaholic45 writes:

I remember about all of it. Those were great games to watch - real wars with no love lost and pulling all the stops to win on both sides.

Ernie absolutely shot free throws in place of other players - at KY no less. The team would huddle at the line, and when they broke Ernie would be at the line instead of the fouled player and the ref would give him the ball.

And on that slow clock, I think KY threw the ball in short, made two passes to get down the full length of the court, a couple of dribbles to go in for a layup - and all of that before 2 seconds ran off the clock and the buzzer went off.

Great memories.

Slystone writes:

Can anyone tell me where one can find DVD's of these classic games of the Vols -v-Cats?

rockytopatl writes:

in response to grvol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

As I was reading the story, I was trying to compose in my head what grvol said. Such a talented duo, but there was very little to support them in terms of depth. In the tournament, fouls or injuries always killed them. It was always frustrating to me that the greatest teams in Tennessee basketball history failed to win a single NCAA tournament game.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to RobtheVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Although I rarely waste my time these days replying to you, I think it has to be said that no "big-name" coach would have even considered coming to UT in those days. UT was not that far removed from the days when some junior assistant football coach was the basketball coach. Even the full-time head coaches we had were paid only about what football assistants were making. Heck, our last four or more coaches were at best about the fourth or fifth guys on the search list because UT just was/is not considered a real basketball school. I do give CBP--and Mears--credit for at least trying to change that perception, but this year's team hasn't been much help in that regard.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to PennVol:

UT was 3-5 against Bama from '73-74 thru '76-77. With B&E playing together, we were 3-3. Grunfeld was 0-2 during the '73-'74 season before King arrived.

Thanks! I thought it was probably something like that.

vols_fan_n_tx writes:

Ernie and Bernie were the best. I have the Sports Illustrated, signed by both of them on the front and by Ray Mears on the inside, hanging in my office. CBP is working hard to bring back that kind of excitement, but we need Kentucky to get back on a national stage to bring back the excitment in the rivalry.

TopperVol75 writes:

I was a freshman at UT during the 75-76 basketball season and remembered every SEC game as a huge event. Yes the UK game was special, but as mentioned above, the Alabama game was a CLASSIC. Other games involved such drama as LSU coming in with touted guard Kenny Higgs and Auburn with Eddie Johnson. Great games seemed the norm and I always remember the dining hall having fresh oranges on gamedays, which by way of my '70's coat, made their way into Stokely and onto the floor when I disagreed with a call. Ahhh...memories. Thanks, Vols!!

JWilly writes:

Wasn't Charles Barley at Auburn sometime in that time-frame?

illinoisvolfan writes:

in response to General_Watermelon:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

General, thank you for remembering Mike Jackson, one of the most underrated basketball players to ever suit up for the Vols.

Lots of great memories, from the spotlight starting lineup introductions to Coach Mears and Coach Stu on the sidelines.

Goods times indeed...

Slystone writes:

in response to General_Watermelon:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yep, Barkley and Chuck Person played together on what I believed to be the most talented teams Auburn has ever had. They were athletic, quick and with Barkley rebounding and Person shooting the outside J they were tough to beat in the SEC. Loved it when they beat Kentucky in Rupp arena back then.

bwbrasfield#423516 writes:

in response to pj_ladyvolnMI:

Loved being in school during their era! Good times!

I was in the Pep band during those games, and I especially remember the 103-998 game. Bernie would set picks for Ernie at the top of the key, and Ernie would nail what were, at that time, two-pointers; if we had had the three point shot in that era, it would have been a romp! Those were the days, and Bruce is bringing them back!!

blazeglory07 writes:

I can remember not listening to the games and watching the replays of them later that night,when I was just a kid.

StuAberdeeneFan writes:

Guess who recruited both to Tennessee? Yep, Stu Aberdeene. The biggest little man I've ever met. I remember when he ran TN basketball camps in Maryville, on outdoor courts, and agility drills in the field. He would wet his wistle strap with water and wrap it around your rear for not having your shirt tail tucked in, socks pulled up, and shoes tied. Suicide drills started with over 100 on the baseline and finished by diving on each line. The only camp I've ever attended that taught how to dive for a loose ball without busting your chin and how to take a charge without breaking your wrist. All the campers wanted to show him the red stains on the top of their socks from blood running down their knees by diving for loose balls. He didn't run his camps like a day care center or facility exposure. His first 2 hours of camp was a lecture on discipline, heart, dedication, and teamwork. We learned that only a small % would make it big time in basketball but we all learned how to be successful in life. Thanks Coach Aberdeene! Bruce, I'm your biggest fan, but there is still work to do. GO VOLS!

evoltwin writes:

THE reason I became a Tennessee Volunteer : in the words of John Ward, "King to Grunfeld...Grunfeld to King...BOTTOMMMMMM!!!!!

gbo78 writes:

in response to StuAberdeeneFan:

Guess who recruited both to Tennessee? Yep, Stu Aberdeene. The biggest little man I've ever met. I remember when he ran TN basketball camps in Maryville, on outdoor courts, and agility drills in the field. He would wet his wistle strap with water and wrap it around your rear for not having your shirt tail tucked in, socks pulled up, and shoes tied. Suicide drills started with over 100 on the baseline and finished by diving on each line. The only camp I've ever attended that taught how to dive for a loose ball without busting your chin and how to take a charge without breaking your wrist. All the campers wanted to show him the red stains on the top of their socks from blood running down their knees by diving for loose balls. He didn't run his camps like a day care center or facility exposure. His first 2 hours of camp was a lecture on discipline, heart, dedication, and teamwork. We learned that only a small % would make it big time in basketball but we all learned how to be successful in life. Thanks Coach Aberdeene! Bruce, I'm your biggest fan, but there is still work to do. GO VOLS!

Thanks for sharing. I share all the same great memories of Stu Aberdeene from Ray Mears BB camp in Knoxville. One more that I never forgot was when Stu circled us up for a talk - if anyone started to use his basketball for a seat, Stu would say "don't sit on your basketball! - the basketball is your friend and it will get you a college scholarship someday, so take good care of it"

RavenzRule writes:

Ernie Grunfeld should be our Athletic Director, Mike Hamilton sucks. No offense.

BR_549 writes:

in response to evoltwin:

THE reason I became a Tennessee Volunteer : in the words of John Ward, "King to Grunfeld...Grunfeld to King...BOTTOMMMMMM!!!!!

I can still remember John Ward saying "Bernard King!!! King of the Volunteers!"

BR_549 writes:

I was at UT during the Ernie/ Bernie years and have a few memories. I saw Bernard playing tennis several times on the outdoor courts, he wasn't very good. Saw him in the intramural gym a few times too, his outside shot didn't move the net when he made it. I remember he got suspended for the first half of his junior year for being passed out drunk in his car. There were rumors Jackie Walker was with him in a dress, but never proved. Imagine how that would have played out today with social media. I remember hearing that after UT lost at KY in his freshman year a UK fan thru a lit cig in his afro, and he vowed never to lose to them again, which he didn't. I remember camping out (standing in line overnight) in 3 degree weather in 1976 to get student tickets to the alabama and kentucky games. The other thing I remember is that during the games if anyone ever touched or pushed BK he always tried to fight them. Used to see EG at Andy Holt dorm, he was just an average guy, would always speak. Another thing was Joe B Hall called all the Tenn fans bush league so we all took bush signs to the KY game at Stokely, and you can guess what else was on it. As others have posted..great memories back then, too bad they never advanced in the NCAA tournament.

BR_549 writes:

The one other thing I remember about these years was Mike Jackson, not the pop star, but the guard from Stratford in Nashville on the team. Seemed like he constantly hogged the ball and took too many shots, never passing as much as he should have to the two stars.

TinsleyLA77 writes:

61-20 is winning 3/4 of your games, not 2/3.

The 2012 TN team is 18-14. That's 56% vs 75% for E&B.

passionate1 writes:

Amazing stories! Growing up in memphis i remember my dad taking me to a UCLA-Tenn game in memphis won by the Vols behind a late surge led bt swamp rat-dewey warren.
Moving to Arkansas at a young age i listened to many a john ward broadcast at night (fuzzy reception at times) from Kos,Bill Justus,Bobby Croft,T. Boerwinkle... so much excitement when we beat kentucky.
I only saw the Ernie and Bernie show against UCLA in the omni-in hot' lanta and the 93-88 loss to syracuse (bk,ernie,and m. jackson all fouled out if i remember and Ernie had a nightmare game from the foul line!)
I always wished the vols would have played my 2nd fav tem the razorbacks in 1977- delph brewer and moncrief were spectacular!!
I wonder... where may i purchase the tenn-kentucky games from 1975-1977 on dvd?
I also remember mike edwards mising the top end of a 1-1 against kentucky circa 1972?
Kentucky rhen scored and beat us by a point!I will never understand how ernie and bk never won a NCAA tournament game! BK did not play against VMI. if memory serves; ernie had 30 something points that day!
Syracuse game left me quite dejected as bk was cold from the floor and ernie missed a lot of free throws!!
Listening to john ward on the radio was pure pleasure! Sometimes when i knew we were going to win i would channel scan and hear the downtrodden cawood ledford LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Go Big Orange!!
Michael

climberNeeds2workATwendys writes:

King going into the NBA hall of fame this year:)

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