Bernard King, other retired NBA greats seek long-term health

ATLANTA (AP) Bernard King hopes that regular health screenings will prevent his basketball friends from dying prematurely.

Heart disease is a prominent topic now among retired NBA players.

''Obviously we've lost a lot of our brethren - Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins recently and Pat Cummings, Marvin Webster and Jerome Kersey over the last few years,'' King said. ''We're in a situation where we'd like to stem that tide.''

King and fellow Hall of Fame inductee Dominique Wilkins joined longtime NBA stars Dale Ellis and Grant Hill in undergoing physical exams Saturday on the club level at Philips Arena.

Organizers estimated that 22 retired players from the Atlanta area participated in the screenings. Former head coach and player Johnny Davis drove four hours from North Carolina to learn more about his body, too.

Following the heart-related deaths last year of Malone, 60, and Dawkins, 58, the NBA has partnered with the players association and retired players association to hold events in different cities.

Houston was the first stop in December. The Hawks hosted Saturday's clinic.

''It's an unfortunate set of events that you've seen far too many of our former, retired players die because heart disease,'' said Hill, a Hawks minority owner and a seven-time All-Star with Detroit and Orlando. ''From what I'm hearing, some of it maybe could've been avoided if the players knew or were aware of what they were dealing with.''

Hill has only been retired three years and still looks slim and trim. Even so, he wants as much information as possible about his condition.

''I'm at that age, over 40, when you shouldn't take anything for granted and check these things out,'' Hill said. ''I don't know that I've gone through a full cardio evaluation like this, probably not since I was playing or before. It's better to be safe than the alternative.''

After filling out their medical history?, the retired players had an echocardiogram, a carotid scan, blood work and sleep apnea tests. They also had the option of an orthopedic exam before meeting with Emory University sports cardiologist Jonathan Kim. Joe Rogowski, the director of sports medicine and research for the NBAPA, was also on hand to answer questions.

''You have to build a blueprint of your health and how you do that is to get screened,'' said former Hawks star Wilkins. ''That way if something is wrong you'll know how to treat it. I've been preaching this for nine to 10 years. It's really a passion for me. When I found out when I was a diabetic, these were the things I had to do.''

Ellis, a 17-year veteran, estimated that he's had one physical since retiring in 2000. He was long overdue and still thinks regularly about friends like Malone and Dawkins.

''I traveled with Darryl to Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait and got a chance to get to know him when we were overseas entertaining our troops,'' Ellis said. ''Moses and I played ball together in Milwaukee. I didn't go to the All-Star Game this year in Toronto, but one of the highlights of the All-Star week was always seeing Moses Malone. He was a friend of mine, so I'm glad the NBA and the retired players association are taking a look at this to take care of the players.''

King said it's not hard for retired players to take their health for granted, even if they aren't in excellent shape as the years pass by.

But now that he's 59, the former New York Knicks great tries to listen to his body.

''I always have a yearly physical but as with anything related to your health, things can change before you know it,'' said King, who drove 30 miles south from his home in Alpharetta. ''My wife implored me today - ''Go, please, go!''

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