Now visitors to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame can learn what Tennessee fans knew along: Bernard King was among the best ever.
King was announced Monday as a member of the 2013 hall of fame class that will be inducted in September in Springfield, Mass.
“I’d love to say its a dream come true but you can’t dream of this,” King told reporters on Monday.
“I’d guess you can say this is the culmination of my life in basketball.’’
The announcement came in Atlanta where the men’s Final Four was being held. King, 56, lives nearby in Duluth, Ga.
He was an All-American in his three seasons at UT — and a three-time SEC player of the year — from 1974-77. Then he then enjoyed a distinguished career in the NBA during which he overcame two knee injuries and returned to All-Star form before retiring in 1993.
“He was the best I ever saw,’’ said John Ward, who not only saw, but also broadcast all 76 of King’s games at UT on the Vol Network.
“Not every great player becomes a star. Great players have great games and magical moments, but Bernard King, in his presence, in the way he played, in his attitude and in the way he communicated, was a star.’’
This was King’s sixth nomination to the hall. He joins 2000 inductee Pat Summitt as the only UT-related members.
Voted in with King in the 2013 class are players Gary Payton and Dawn Staley and coaches Rick Pitino, Guy Lewis, Jerry Tarkanian and Sylvia Hatchell. Hatchell played at Carson-Newman and earned her Masters at UT.
Pitino was an assistant coach with the New York Knicks in 1983-84 when King became the first NBA player since 1964 to score 50 points in consecutive games and then in 1985 when King led the NBA in scoring at 32.9 points per game.
King was a four-time NBA All-Star, including in 1991, six years after an ACL injury and surgery sidelined him for nearly two full seasons.
King averaged 22.5 points in an NBA career in which he scored 19,655 points for five different franchises.
“He should’ve been in the Hall a long time ago based on what he’s done,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson told the New York Post.
“It’s unfortunate all the injuries cut his career short,’’ said Hall of Fame member Charles Barkley. “There were years where Bernard King was flat out fantastic. It was an honor to play against him.’’
It was also a war to play against him.
“Bernard was a fierce competitor, first and foremost,’’ said UT teammate Bert Bertelkamp.
King is the only Vol who averaged double figures in both points and rebounds for his career. The 6-foot-7 King averaged 25.8 points, scoring 30 or more 26 times, and 13.2 rebounds.
UT coach Cuonzo Martin and athletic director Dave Hart sent congratulations to King, who in 2007 was the first UT men’s player to have his number retired.
“You can tell Tennessee fans hold a special place in their heart for him,’’ said Martin.
“We should all be proud that Bernard King is a Vol.’’
King came to UT in 1974 from Brooklyn, N.Y., as one of the program’s first black players. He teamed with fellow New Yorker Ernie Grunfeld for coach Ray Mears in what became known as “The Ernie & Bernie Show.’’
“Bernard is the best player I ever played with,’’ said Mike Jackson, who played alongside King and Grunfeld in Stokely Athletic Center.
“With all the media coverage the game gets today, I’ve seen a lot of players, but I still haven’t pin-pointed a player who had the quality of desire that he had.
“His desire to succeed trumped everything else. He was just unique.’’
That desire helped King overcome a serious knee injury at a time when surgery and rehab was not as advanced as it is now.
The seventh pick of the 1977 NBA draft following his junior year at UT, King averaged 24.2 ppg as a rookie with the New Jersey Nets.
Following his first knee injury, he was the league’s 1981 comeback player of the year.
By March 1985, King was at his peak when he suffered a torn ACL.
He returned in 1987-88 with the Washington Bullets and averaged 17.2 ppg, building toward a triumphant 1991 return to the All-Star game.
King retired after the 1992-93 season.
“To me,’’ said Bertelkamp, “college, pro ... any basketball hall of fame there is, he deserves to be in it.’’