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Albert King Q&A: Conquering the Champs
May 7, 2009
By Ben Couch -- NJNETS.COM


East Rutherford, N.J.Twenty-five years ago, the Nets broke through for their first playoff series win as an NBA franchise, knocking off the defending champion Philadelphia 76ers, 3-2. The group that earned the upset had grown together for three seasons, two under Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown and the third under Stan Albeck. That timeframe coincides with the development of two key players, Maryland products Buck Williams and Albert King, drafted by New Jersey with the No. 3 and No. 10 picks, respectively, in the 1981 NBA Draft.

Williams won the 1981 Rookie of the Year Award before adding second team All-NBA honors in 1982-83, while King, a Brooklyn native, proved to be an efficient scorer, averaging 14.7 points on .481 shooting during his first three seasons. In 83-84, King started 53 of 79 regular-season games, posting a nightly line of 14.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals in 26.6 minutes.

He recently took the time to check in with NJNets.com to discuss that momentous run on its quarter-century anniversary. And be sure to check out the second part of the interview, in which King shares his thoughts on the current Nets roster!

NJNets.com: After Larry Brown left the team to coach Kansas at the end of the previous year, Stan Albeck came on board for the 1983-84 season. What changes did he bring with him?

Albert King: I would say, picking a team nowadays, we were like the Phoenix Suns, though not to that extreme. We were running. All he wanted us to do was push that ball up the court. Besides myself and Buck Williams, you have to mention Michael Ray Richardson, Otis Birdsong, Mike Gminski, Daryl Dawkins, Mike OKoren. We had a great nucleus. We had five guys start, but we went probably nine or 10 deep, and thats what made us so good. But Stan Albeck as coach, all he wanted us to do was run, run, run. Older people remember the San Antonio Spurs with the Iceman, George Gervin, and those guys; all they did was run. And it was the same for us.

NJNets.com: Toward the end of the season, Coach Albeck guaranteed your team would make the playoffs. What was it like having your coach promise that publicly?

Albert King: That was my third year in the NBA -- we didnt care. We were young guys, we were confident, we were cocky, we felt that we could beat anyone, not that we did. [Laughs] We always felt we could win games. That was the era when Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Dr. J and all those great players were playing. When we went out there, we knew we were pretty successful the last couple of years, but we hadnt won a playoff series, so that was one of the things we were aiming for.

NJNets.com: That was Daryl Dawkins' second season in New Jersey. What changed for the big man after a year's experience as a Net?

Albert King: I think the key change was that Larry Brown had really helped him out as far as his footwork. Everyone would always say, Chocolate Thunder! Dunk, dunk, dunk. But what Larry did was slow his game down and work on his footwork so Daryl had a lot better moves around the basket. With the team he played with before, the Sixers, they just threw him the ball and wanted him to dunk. Now he was shooting jump shots, making pivots, taking the ball to the hole, boxing out -- you saw an all-around game. Before that, everyone just wanted him to be one-dimensional.

NJNets.com: Michael Ray Richardson struggled with off-court problems that limited him to 48 games that season. How difficult was it for the team to deal with his absences?

Albert King: It was tough. Because anyone that knows basketball or follows basketball or watches classic sports knows that Michael Ray Richardson was one of the greatest point guards in the NBA. His game was quickness and speed, and if you ran the court, you would get the ball. Thats why I loved to run, why Buck loved to run. Michael Ray was a 6-6, pure point guard, which you didnt find at the time -- 6-6 was tall for a point guard in the 80s. He was one of the greatest point guards I had ever seen. He had off-the-court issues that affected the team, of course. He was able to get through the season, but that affects you, especially when its one of your top players in and out of the lineup.

NJNets.com: Earlier, you mentioned the team's depth. Which players might have deserved more attention than they got at the time?

Albert King: Me? Nah. [Laughs] Thats an interesting question. I would say everyone knows Daryl, everyone knows Buck players like Darwin Cook, who played point guard and shooting guard/off-guard. And I would say Mike Gminski; he was coming into his own. I would pick those two as far as players who were very productive, but ones who -- with so many good players on the team -- probably didnt get as much attention from a press standpoint as they shouldve. And you had Otis Birdsong on the team, too, who was an All-Star. He was in and out, hurt a little bit now and then, but he got his notoriety.

NJNets.com: Looking back on your First Round series with the Philadelphia 76ers, what was the team's mindset after going up 2-0 in a five-game set?

Albert King: Oh we knew the series was over. Back in the 80s, going to Philly we would take a bus. We had won two straight games, we were coming back home, we had the music on, we were dancing, we were having a good time. We were like, This was easy is this how its supposed to be? We just had fun. We thought, Well, well win one game at home, then well go to the next series. Little did we know Philly was going to come back real quick.

NJNets.com: What about after Game Four, when Philly forced a fifth game?

Albert King: Real quiet. The locker room was real quiet. I think the best thing for us was playing on the road. We were a young team; confident and cocky, but after losing those two games, we were quiet. We still felt we could win, but I think there was less pressure on us playing on the road than playing at home. Philly, the defending champions they had the pressure on them. They had veteran guys we had grown up watching.

NJNets.com: As you closed out that 101-98 Game Five win, was it weird to think you had knocked off the defending champs?

Albert King: It was. With 10-20 seconds left in the game, I think we realized, We had this game. It was like you see in college -- we were just jumping around. We were like kids, which is what basketball is (about); its a kids game. We had knocked off the NBA champions, guys we had watched growing up in high school: Dr. J, Bobby Jones, Maurice Cheeks. And we were going to the next series. And there was another party going on that bus ride back. Good times.

NJNets.com: You moved on to face the Milwaukee Bucks, but lost that series 4-2 after splitting the first four games. What happened there?

Albert King: It was a different type of series. Milwaukee back then was like the (current) Utah Jazz: very methodical, run their plays, play good defense, slow the ball down. Against Philly, we were able to get out and run. Milwaukee did a very good job throughout the series of slowing us down, and our game was speed and quickness. The first couple games we split, but they had a veteran team, and thats what got us.

NJNets.com: The Bucks then matched up with the Boston Celtics, who beat them 4-1 and then went on to win the NBA Championship. How do you think your team would've matched up with them?

Albert King: I dont think we really wanted to play them. [Laughs] I dont think we wanted to go to the Boston Garden, because they always had the tendency to have a hot locker room. That was the old Boston Garden. It would have been interesting to see, but Boston had such a big lineup. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, they were all over 6-9, and Larry Bird was the small forward. That was real different. That was a big team, back then, and we werent that big. But hey -- it would have been interesting to see. We wouldnt have minded playing those Celtics. But Milwaukee, they played well.

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