As a regular lockout feature, we will be highlighting old masters through a series of classic NBA games in our Eye on the Classics series. For our first featured game, I'll be taking a look at Bernard King's classic 60 point bomb in Madison Square Garden during one of the few successful seasons in a long and rarely noted career.
As a statistician, I'm always one of the strongest proponents of the idea that the average fan vastly overrates the importance of a volume scorer on a contending team. Rebounding, passing, and lockdown defense are all roughly as important as volume scoring -- in a vacuum. But even the most curmugeonly among us (Berri exempted) can't deny the sheer joy a basketball fan can find in a virtuoso scoring performance. Players who end a game having scored over half their team's points in an altogether dominating fashion are, at the moment they take their leave of the court, the most important thing a basketball player can be. They're the franchise. At least for a game. They vindicate their decision to regularly dominate the ball, again, at least for a single game. And they captivate us. They get our attention, no matter how negative we are about their skills.
In short, scoring may not be the single most important thing a player can do on the court. But it is, without question, the most electrifying. And Bernard King, bless his soul, exemplifies it. This game in particular. Like all record-setting or challenging performances, this one didn't really start with any particular fanfare. A lot like Kobe's 81. King misses his first several shots and actually fades badly in the second half, enough so that the Nets win the game despite his outburst and despite the Knicks being one of the four best teams in the league that season. But the failures are important for our purposes -- his misses allow watchers of this game the levity to properly examine King's offensive game, as well as differences in the general offensive strategy in the 80s compared to today.