The interesting thing about Bernard King's latest arrest is that he was on foot. King was a two-time All-American basketball player at the University of Tennessee. In the last 18 months, he's been arrestes five time, usually in the company of his car. The villian was an old red Pontiac with a black top.

"Bernard's upset with the police department here because he thinks they're after him," said Tennessee basketball coach Ray Mears. "He says they know his car. Everybody does. It's an old, beat-up thing. It's worth $200, maybe."

Bernard King is the quintessential city player. He never cared about school, preferring to grow up on Brooklyn's playgrounds. He is 6-foot-7, 210 pounds, all quickness, a great leaper, a child filled with a rage to win because victory on the asphalt made him feel like - a man. "What he wants out of life is to play basketball," said Ernie Grunfeld, costar of Tennessee's "Ernie and Bernie Show" the last three seasons.

So King quit Tenneseeee with a year's eligibility remaining to turn professional. Drafted in the first round by the NNew York Nets, King seemed certain to get rich this summer. Players with credentials less impressive than King's have been given contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. For a city player, for a poor child who never thought about much except basketball, Big Money is the ultimate certification of his worth.

Then King was arrested. Two weeks ago, late at night, Knoxville police arrested him, saying television equipment in King's car had been taken from the university's athletic building. King's earlierr offenses seem minor in ccomparison, all stemming from incidents while driving. Those three arrests produced the total punishment of a $2 fine.

But even before the police blotter was dry on the burglary charge of two weeks ago, King was arrested again - this time after a woman complained that a man tried to break into her apartment. Collared by police in the apartment building hallway, King was charged with possession of marijuana, prowling and resisting arrest.

When a person of talent throws away the rewards of that talent, we ask why. Why does Freddie Priinze pull the trigger? Janis Joplin; why Janis? Marvin Barnes, a great basketball player, is in jail. He was on probation for assaulting a college teammate with a tire iron, and he violated the probation by carrying a gun.Why? Why would Bernard King, with hundreds of thousands of dollars his for the taking, cause himself to be arrested?

"I told him after the season. Don't do anything stupid," Mears said. "It's always in the offseason he's getting in trouble. All he had was basketball. During the season, his basketball kept him busy. Other times . . ."

Mears left the sentence to the imagination. "We're trying to figure out why, and so is he. He was in my office the other day and said, 'I just blew it.' Bernard realizes what a dumb move he made - he is immature, and if he took that TV, it was so stupid because we leave it there for anybody to use - and he knowss how much it hurt him."

No one knows why. Ben Byrd a sportswriter for the Knoxville Journal, said, "Bernard has such great ability and such personal charm he could really make it big if he used it in right directions. But he hasn't done that so far."

Questions come up. Did Tennessee betray the player by exploiting his ability and then leaving him to cope for himself in a hostile environment? Or did dd Tennessee protect him so much, pull him out of so many problems, that King came to feel his basketball ability made him invulnerable to society's rules?

"He's been a super kid for us," Mears said. "Bernard appreciates that we did for him here. He helped us recurit this year, and if a kid doesn't like you, he won't help you. We never had any problems with Bernard - except the police."

King's lawyer, William Banks of Knoxville, has told King to make no public comments until his trial come up Aug. 1. The lawyer says Tenessee has done right by King, insists that the Knoxville police have never harassed his client and is enthusiastic in his defense of the wayward man-child.

"Bernard King is not a bad boy," Banks said. "He is not a thug. He is one of the nicest, the politest young men you'd ever want to meet."

Then, why? The Nets are awaiting the trial verdict before negotiating with King.Why would a guy risk Big Money with foolish behavior?

"You have to remember he is young man," Banks said. ". . . And you know you are not dealing with an ordinary athlete here.Bernard King is one of the finest basketball players ever.You meet only a few of his kind in a lifetime. And the adulation that comes with that, the super-hero stuff - that hasto go a young man's head. That is part of the problem with Bernard."