When two brothers play one sport, people always want to know which is better. Bernard and Albert King probably know. But with them it doesn't matter. It's enough that they're playing in the National Basketball Association.

Both are forwards in the Atlantic Division, but their games are vastly different. Bernard, at 6 feet 7, 205 pounds, is a physical player; Albert, 6-6 and 190, uses more finesse.

Each is a major part of his team. Bernard leads the New York Knicks in scoring. Albert is the New Jersey Nets' second-leading scorer.

For Albert it was acclaim and recognition almost from the time he started playing basketball. For Bernard notoriety came later. There have been pressures, tradeoffs, problems and rewards for both.

The three-year age difference between Bernard, 26, the second-oldest of five brothers, and Albert, the second-youngest, was just enough to keep them from playing ball together, from having the same friends, from hanging out together near the Fort Hamilton apartment of Thelma and Tom King in Brooklyn.

"Back then we had more of a silent love," said Albert. "My mother and father were both quiet and I guess that carried over to the rest of us. Maybe we didn't say much past, 'How are you doing,' and, 'How did you do,' but the feeling was there."

Ken Kern has been the basketball coach at Fort Hamilton for the last 27 years. For nine of those years--without interruption--he had a King wearing No. 55. First came Thomas, then Bernard, then Albert. Kern had a winning season each of those years and his teams made the playoffs.

"When it came to court sense, overall knowledge of the game and natural instincts, Bernard and Albert King were geniuses," said Kern. "They would take what I taught them and find options and levels in it that I never thought of.

"I remember one game when Albert was 17. It was against Canarsie, the defending city champs. Albert had 48 points, 22 rebounds, 12 assists, five stuffs and six blocked shots. We only scored 74 points and he was involved in 72 of them. It was his birthday and I remember asking one of the other players where he was before the game. He was running wind sprints in the hall."

College brought the Kings closer together and into national attention.

At Tennessee, Bernard became both a cause for celebration and cause celebre. Teamed with Ernie Grunfeld, who now plays for the Knicks, he was an all-America as a freshman. He scored 42 points in his first game. In his three years as a Volunteer, he averaged 25.8 points and 13.2 rebounds and led his team to two NCAA tournaments and a tie for the Southeastern Conference championship. He was the conference player of the year three times.

Bernard had problems with law enforcement official over such things as prowling and petty theft. He was never charged, but he had a tarnished reputation.

He quit after his junior year and entered the NBA draft in 1977. He was the first-round draft choice of the Nets, the seventh player selected overall. He signed a five-year contract for an estimated $800,000.

In January 1980, Bernard's world was in turmoil. He was charged with forceable sexual abuse of a Salt Lake City woman. When police found him he was at home, unconscious from drinking. With the help of his agent and a local attorney, Bernard was released on personal recognizance and admitted to an alcohol rehabilitation program.

He began to rebuild his life. His legal problems were resolved, he played in a Southern California summer league and he was traded to Golden State. He will not talk about that period of his life.

Albert said: "I didn't express much then, but I was very supportive. I realized it was something he had to do on his own, but I let him know I was there."

Pressures increased on Albert, too. College recruiters so pestered him that he had to take refuge at a friend's apartment before deciding on the University of Maryland.

He recalled Bernard warning him college was not like Brooklyn. Albert was homesick and unsure of how to fit in with the team. Maryland was 15-13 his freshman year, a poor season considering the talent. By the end of his junior year he was averaging 21.7 points and the Terrapins were in the playoffs. He was an all-America.

After his senior season, the Nets made him their second No. 1 draft choice, the 10th player picked overall.

In November, when Albert and the Nets traveled to Oakland, where Bernard was playing with Golden State, Albert was trying to get back into shape after a knee injury and he was a little uncomfortable about the first King-versus-King matchup.

"It was hard," said Albert. "We didn't talk to one another and we didn't smile, but for me it was a conscious effort not to."

Said Bernard: "Albert was in town before the game. He came by the house, my wife made dinner for us trying to fatten him up so that he wouldn't be able to run and I kidded him a little bit. I told him I was going to get 50 on him."

The next season Golden State traded Bernard to the Knicks for Michael Ray Richardson. Now in the same division, the brothers found themselves competing on the same court more often.

The brother instinct clashed with the competitive instinct in November when the Knicks and the Nets met at Madison Square Garden for the first time this season.

Bernard had the ball and his brother was guarding him. Albert made a move to steal the ball and accidentally hit his brother in the eye. Bernard went down on one knee with one hand on his eye and the other around the ball. Albert just stopped, then bent over to make sure his brother was all right.

"I sort of forgot about the game for a second," said Albert. "Guarding my brother was one thing, but messing up one of his eyes . . . Darryl Dawkins hollered for me to take the ball, but all I knew was that that was my brother lying there.

"The six games we play against each other are important and I'm going to play 100 percent . . . but my brother, he's important to me, too, and that's not going to change."

Recently Albert was in Washington heading for Atlanta and Bernard was coming into Washington from Cleveland. They met at National Airport and spent an hour together. The Knicks were playing Atlanta the day after the Nets and Bernard asked Albert for a favor.

"I told him whatever you do make the game close," said Bernard. "I wanted Atlanta to be tired when they came to New York." The Nets won, 107-99, and Albert called to say he had done his part.

"I also told him, among other things, about Dominique Wilkins," said Albert. "I told him not to let Dominique get behind him because he's such a terrific jumper."

Bernard said the scouting report helped. "When he got the ball I laid off and let him take the jump shot, which he was reluctant to do." The Knicks lost, 80-79, but Bernard had 24 points to Wilkins' 12, and six rebounds to Wilkins' three.

It pleases the King brothers they are both doing well. They prefer pulling for each other to playing against each other. The better player? They don't care.