Scoring Great King Reveals He Almost Signed with Bird's Celtics

Sam Amico

It was the summer of 1987, and Bernard King was looking for a new team. He said the Larry Bird-led Boston Celtics were nearly the one he chose.

For those who may not know King, he was basically Carmelo Anthony before Anthony -- as King was a high-scoring forward who was automatic from mid-range. 

King's best seasons came with the Knicks, from 1982-87. But a knee injury robbed him of some explosiveness and the Knicks sent King into free agency.

Meanwhile, Bird and the Celtics needed some help. They had just completed fourth third straight trip to the Finals, losing to Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.

So King and the Celtics could've really used each other. As King explained to Justin Termine and Eddie Johnson on SiriusXM NBA radio, it almost happened.

"Bob Wolfe, the legendary agent at the time, represented Larry Bird and I hired him after my last season in New York," King said. "I received a call from him one day and he said, 'Boston is interested in talking to you about possibly joining their franchise.'"

When those Celtics called, you listened.

"I thought to myself, 'Hey, here's a chance to win a championship,'" King said, laughing. "So I flew to Boston, I had a physical, I walk into the office. Red Auerbach is at the desk, smoking his legendary cigar. (Then-Celtics coach) K.C. Jones is there and team president Alan Cohen is as well."

Basically, the Celtics were putting a full-court press on for King, who at that stage of his career would've been a nice veteran addition off the bench behind Bird, and sometimes, perhaps even alongside Bird.

"Red was the only one that spoke," King recalled. "He said, 'Bernard, why do you want to join the Celtics? You know we have a pretty good small forward here?'"

Auerbach was obviously referring to Bird. That didn't matter to King. He wanted to win a championship.

Eventually, the Celtics made King a contract offer.

"In the meantime, during my visit with the Celtics, the Washington Bullets called," King said. "Their offer was just too superior to the Celtics' offer to turn down."

So King signed with the Bullets. And not surprisingly, eventually heard from Bird about it.

"Bird was one of those guys I never spoke to in all the years we played against each other -- never," King said. "But my first game of that (next) season with the Washington Bullets, who do we face? The Boston Celtics.

"Bird walks by me and he said, 'Bernard, you cost me a championship. And he kept moving."

King laughed at the memory, but Bird may have been right. Those Celtics never got back to the Finals and Bird's career ended without another title.

Meanwhile, King averaged 17.2 points that season and just kept getting better -- averaging 28.4 points with the Bullets in 1990-91. He was 34 years old at the time.

Sam Amico covers pro basketball for SI.com. Follow him @AmicoHoops.

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