Bernard King wept. Openly and copiously. For this day, his place in the NBA as one of its best talents, one of its chosen, had been restored.
King was named to the Eastern Conference all-star team yesterday, one of seven reserves voted in by conference coaches. That puts the 34-year-old King in his fourth all-star game, and his first since reconstructive knee surgery in 1985 that threatened his career.
"I think back to the doctors that told me I would never play again," King said at a news conference at Capital Centre before last night's game with Miami. "I think back to all the naysayers who said I would never reach this level again. To me this is a culmination of my goal and my dream. This comeback wasn't complete until this moment occurred. It took six years to get here but it was more than worth it."
King's success came as the Bullets are thinking about activating forward John Williams before the Feb. 8-10 break, as early as Friday night in a soon-to-be sellout against the Pistons, the team said.
That decision remains in the hands of Coach Wes Unseld, in consultation with team physicians.
Unseld has constantly maintained that he won't recommend activating Williams until he sees him in extended and successive practices. Because of the Bullets' schedule leading up to the break, such practices are unlikely.
Even though Williams has reached the 260-pound level set by Bullets doctors, there's doubt whether those doctors would clear his activation so soon without getting a chance to see him work full court.
Williams has yet to take part in a full-court practice, let alone a scrimmage or game. But there still may be a strong desire to get him back in the lineup as soon as possible. The Bullets have two home games before the all-star break.
Despite the speculation about Williams's long-awaited return, this was King's day. The forward spent the last couple of days awaiting word from the league. Even though he has led the NBA in scoring for parts of the season and is currently third at 30 points per game, there was the Bullets' sub-.500 record to consider and other players on winning teams.
"I felt quite comfortable in the knowledge that I was going to make it," he said after the news conference. "There are no guarantees, however. I felt the ballclub was playing well enough to have a member of the team warrant selection. But if we had been a team that was 12 games over .500, Harvey Grant would be an all-star too."
Also added to the East roster were Milwaukee's Ricky Pierce and Alvin Robertson, Atlanta's Dominique Wilkins, Boston's Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, Cleveland's Brad Daugherty and Detroit's Joe Dumars.
Coach Chris Ford of Boston will name the replacement starter for Detroit's Isiah Thomas, who had wrist surgery yesterday and likely is out for the season. The other East starters are Chicago's Michael Jordan, Boston's Larry Bird, Philadelphia's Charles Barkley and New York's Patrick Ewing.
Added to the West roster were Portland's Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and Kevin Duckworth; the Los Angeles Lakers' James Worthy; Phoenix's Tom Chambers; Utah's John Stockton; and Golden State's Tim Hardaway.
The West starters are the Lakers' Magic Johnson, Phoenix's Kevin Johnson, Utah's Karl Malone, Golden State's Chris Mullin and San Antonio's David Robinson.
During his emotional news conference, King thanked Unseld, singled out teammates Darrell Walker and Charles Jones and gave kudos to the Bullets' front office for a get-out-the-vote campaign that put him in third place in fan voting behind Barkley and Bird.
During a series of phone calls, King shared his moment with Norman Scott, the New York Knicks' physician who rebuilt his knee; Dania Sweitzer, his longtime therapist while he spent two years rehabilitating himself; and his family.
"I told my father, 'No one should doubt a man that believes he can,' " King said. "And I believed this moment would come true for me one day."
The honor is especially satisfying considering King entered the season angered that the Bullets wouldn't extend his contract in the offseason. But after seeing how King helped the team -- and put fans in the seats -- the club quickly offered a two-year, $5 million extension that kicks in next season.
"There was always the desire to keep Bernard," said General Manager John Nash, who is in his first season with the Bullets, "but I felt it was important to know our team. It didn't take as long as I thought because I didn't really know Bernard King. Not only did we need his contributions as a player but his contributions as a leader."
King's numbers have gradually increased from 17.2 points a game his first season with Washington to their current level. He credited Unseld's use of the motion offense for getting him open shots and increasing his basketball acumen.
"He's being kind," Unseld said. "He's done what he had to do. There's a lot of personal triumph in that. Success breeds success. That's a good example for a lot of our young guys to see."
King will invite Scott, Sweitzer, his parents, in-laws and others to join him and his wife, Collette, at the all-star game next month in Charlotte, N.C. He said he doesn't care if he's named a starter in case Bird or Barkley, both now injured, are not able to play.
"That's not important," he said. "Just being part of this group is really what it's all about. You're on it for what you've accomplished and what you've contributed to your team. That's what it's all about."
"He's so happy now," Walker said, "he probably won't score a damn point tonight. And deservedly so."