Hall Should Call King and D.J.
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Feb. 19 --It defies basketball logic. A gross injustice that simply doesn’t make sense. Why aren't Bernard King and Dennis Johnson in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame? The 15 finalists were announced by the Hall of Fame on Friday and the only candidates with NBA credentials as players making the cut were Richie Guerin, Adrian Dantley and Chris Mullin.

Huh?

What about BK and DJ, two premier players and difference makers of their respective era?

“I have never feared anybody that I’ve played against – Bird, Magic, Doctor, Michael – and I respect and love all of those guys,” said Dominique Wilkins who entered the Hall last Fall. “Bernard King is the only guy that ever scared the hell out of me.”

Johnson starred for three teams --- Sonics, Suns and Celtics -- and played a key role on three NBA championships. Johnson won Finals MVP honors with Seattle in 1979 and served as an indispensable guard on two Boston Celtics title teams in the mid-’80s.

“Everywhere he went, he won,” said Hall of Famer Bill Walton who teamed with Johnson on the ’86 championship Celtics. “Isn’t that the measure of greatness? And he was the reason they won. He was the reason they won in Seattle. He was the reason they won in Phoenix. “I have never been so disheartened and embarrassed in my life that Dennis Johnson is not already in the Hall of Fame. It’s a travesty.”

The career numbers for King are no doubt Hall worthy --- 19,655 career points for a 22.5 points per game average over 16 seasons, only 10 of which consisted of 60 or more games.

There are 30 players in NBA history who have scored 20,000 or more points and all are either in Hall of Fame (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone) or will soon be inducted (i.e. Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone Reggie Miller). Only Gary Payton, Tom Chambers and Mitch Richmond among the 30 aren’t locks for Springfield with The Glove having the most realistic chance to gain entry.

When King was healthy, he was on par with the most dominant player of the mid-’80s -- Larry Bird, who went on a historic three year MVP run in ’84, ’85 and ’86. King earned All-NBA First Team honors in two of those seasons and even was recognized as the NBA MVP by The Sporting News in 1984, which was voted by NBA players. They selected King, not Bird.

King played in an era when forwards ruled the NBA. With all due respect to Magic and Michael, the forward position reigned supreme in the ’80s. Julius Erving, Alex English, Kevin McHale, James Worthy, Mark Aguirre, Kiki Vandeweghe, Adrian Dantley, Dominique Wilkins, Marques Johnson and an up and coming Charles Barkley all headlined yet no forward was more prolific or unstoppable in any one game than King.

So, why isn’t a player who shot 50 percent or better from the field for seven consecutive seasons given more consideration?

Why isn’t a player who posted back-to-back 50-point games against the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks (on the road) in the Hall?

“Bernard went toe-to-toe with every small forward in this league,” said Wilkins. “How many people do you know gets 50 on back-to-back nights.

There aren’t many people that do that, especially in our era when you can hand check, elbow and there weren’t flagrant foul calls. That tells you how good he was.”

Remember the 1984 Eastern Conference Semifinals between Boston and New York? The Celtics who went on to win the championship that season couldn’t win a game at Madison Square Garden and needed all seven games to eliminate the Knicks. King averaged 34.8 points in that postseason, which included the Knicks’ first-round series victory over the Detroit Pistons.

Why isn’t the man who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee only to bounce back to average 28.4 points still waiting for the call? And successfully change his style of play from feared post-up player to feared face-up player.

Since the Hall of Fame rightfully honors basketball at every level and not solely at the professional, look at King’s collegiate career at the University of Tennessee where he starred alongside Ernie Grunfeld --- 26.4, 25.2 and 25.8 points per game in three seasons for a 25.8 career average.

“The Ernie and Bernie show, we played them when I was at UCLA, and those guys were great,” said Kiki Vandeweghe.

Perhaps Johnson retired too early at age 35 for him not to receive stronger consideration. DJ was not only one of the premier defensive guards of his era (see Magic Johnson shut down job in the ’84 Finals), earning NBA All-Defensive First Team honors six times and was certainly more than capable of lighting it up on the offensive end when called upon (see 32-point performance in Game 4 of the 1979 Finals between Sonics and Bullets).

“Dennis Johnson defines competitive greatness,” said Walton.

“He was at his best when his best was needed. He always made the biggest of shots. He always guarded the toughest opponent. The Boston Celtics and Larry Bird have the ’84 and ’86 championships because of Dennis Johnson, who the Celtics had to acquire so they could beat Philadelphia and the Lakers. Without Dennis Johnson, those banners would not be there.”

Have off court problems haunted King’s election? No doubt. Should it prevent him from entering? Absolutely not, especially since past transgressions aren’t an official criteria for entry. If it was, the overall number of inductees in Springfield wouldn’t have swelled to 258.

“For whatever reason, people get overlooked and I can’t explain it,” said Wilkins. “I don’t know. But the funny thing is, his peers know. They know what Bernard King meant to this game. They know what he did to players in this game. People at the small forward position, guys did not want to play against Bernard King because they had to work too hard. He was relentless.”