How perfectly sad. The King we called a prince is gone now. Albert King made his last 15-foot jump shot for Maryland just before 5 o'clock this afternoon. He owns the school's all-time scoring record with 2,058 points. He owns our hearts as well, for in four seasons he was asked to do the undoable and not only did he try to do it, he never said it was too much to ask of anyone.
"Albert, remember?" A fellow in a sweatshirt ran onto the court. King's last shot for Maryland bounced off the rim at the buzzer. Indiana won, 99-64. The four years, four seasons of expectations unrealized, were over for King, and the ball rolled away, untended, no one wanting it now. And the fellow in the sweatshirt said, "Albert, remember?"
He wanted King's wristband. He had asked Albert before the game if he could have it. "Sure," said King, who for four years thanked referees every time they handed him the ball for a free throw. He thanked them every time. An all-American player, a million-dollar pro someday, he thanked the referees and he remembered the fellow in the sweatshirt.
He took off the wristband, and, leaving the court, tossed the thing up in the air.
How perfectly sad. How sadly perfect. We expected too much from Albert King and Maryland. For four years, we expected too much. Albert is a wonderful player, a prince among commoners. But he never was the kind of player who won games by himself. The coaches call it "killer instinct," and Albert never had it. He thanked the referees every time. Put Albert with a team with two big, strong front-liners . . . put him with a great passing guard . . . put him with teammates who play barbed-wire defense -- then, and only then, Albert King could take an ordinary team to extraordinary heights.
Make no mistake. By the standards Lefty Driesell himself sets up, this was an ordinary Maryland team. Lefty wants to win the ACC. He wants to win the NACC. This was an ordinary team, exposed as such today when it played no defense against Indiana. Here was Indiana, a ball-control team averaging 69 points a game, and it was runnin' 'n' gunnin' for 99 points, its most this season. "We knew they didn't play any defense," an Indiana coach said, "but we didn't know they were that bad."
Albert tried. Here's how he tried. Indiana led, 40-26, and King moved along the base line with the ball, looking for daylight. He is a little guy inside, really, a slim 6-6. And he moved with the giants. Indiana had a 6-10, 245-pounder waiting. It had a 6-9, 225-pounder overhead. It had a 6-8, 210-pounder on King's trail. So with no way out, King put up a desperate, left-handed, twisting layup that didn't even hit the rim.
It floated there, an ugly thing. But then Albert, flying, tipped it in.
The giants were on their way down when King went back up and tipped in his own missed shot.
Barely 10 seconds later, at Indiana's end, the 6-10 Landon Turner simply backed in against the Maryland defender, Ernest Graham, and popped in a little jump shot that he probably shoots from that spot 100 times a day.
What Albert had done with magic, Turner did without breathing hard.
And when it matters most, when you play 40 minutes to pick a winner, you like the team that does it the easiest, most economical way. Magic is nice, but it is so rare. For four years, too many of us looked for Albert's magic act as salvation for an ordinary basketball team. What we should have realized is that Albert's magic, as glorious as it was, could raise Maryland from mediocrity but never hold it at greatness.
Every magician needs an assistant, and Albert never had enough help. Against Indiana's giants, 6-8 Buck Williams was overwhelmed. Against Indiana's all-America guard Isiah Thomas, Maryland's guards could do nothing at either end. How perfectly sad, than, that in the last game of his college career, Albert tried to do the undoable, trying to carry an ordinary team to victory over an extraordinary team.
King took 28 shots, made 10, scored 22 points.
And everybody asked him how disappointed he was.
They asked him if he would look back years from now and be sorry.
They asked how he would characterize his four years at Maryland. Disappointment?
They asked him if he had a sense of spending four years and never seeing it all come together. Was he disappointed?
These are, of course, questions presupposing that Albert King and Maryland expected to do more than win 79 of 120 games, win the 1979-80 ACC regular season championship, go to the semifinals of the 1980 NCAA East Regional, make it to the second round of this year's Mideast. These are questions asked with the idea that Albert, the prince, would make all of Maryland kings.
King answered all the questions pleasantly, easily. He said he would have been more disappointed to lose by a single point. He said that years from now, he expects to be a better player and he will wish he had been so good for Maryland. He said he wasn't really disappointed, for one reason only.
"We tried the best we could," he said. "We just didn't achieve as much as we hoped to, as much as we were capable of . . . or as much as we thought we were capable of."
A mean fellow might have brushed aside the reporters asking him how much he hurt. Albert thanks referees.
So Albert shook hands with a reporter who had asked how much it hurt to work these four years and hear the work called a disappointment. How perfectly sad that Albert King has worked his wonders for four years, always trying to do the undoable, making all-America, and yet the questions are of disappointment.
Albert King disappointed no one.