CHARLOTTE, N.C., FEB. 9 -- He remembers the doctors -- there were two or three of them -- who told him he'd never play basketball again. This was 1985, and the only retort Bernard King had was his own determination.

History was against him. No one had returned from an injury of the kind King suffered in Kansas City's Kemper Arena that March night, when he ruptured his right knee's anterior cruciate ligament.

"What I felt was, if it hadn't been done before, that just means that no one has found a way to do it yet," King said this weekend. "I just set my mind to spending whatever time was necessary to get the job done. I think that I've been able to do that. I'm pleased with the results of my labor. Because this is from my labor."

"This" is King's fourth all-star appearance, and a start for the Eastern Conference to boot, in the 42nd annual NBA All-Star Game Sunday afternoon. It is the culmination of nearly six years of rehabilitation for King that has spanned two teams and two multimillion-dollar contracts.

Because of Larry Bird's injured back, the Washington Bullets' leader will open with Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing in the Eastern frontcourt, with Michael Jordan and Joe Dumars -- a replacement for injured Detroit teammate Isiah Thomas -- in the backcourt.

The Western Conference will start Magic Johnson and Kevin Johnson at guards, with Chris Mullin, Karl Malone and David Robinson up front.

"What Bernard has done really affects all the athletes in their heart," Robinson said. "I think everyone in the back of their minds fears that career-ending injury -- not even a career-ending injury, but an injury that will threaten the level of play you've worked so hard to achieve.

"To see him come back and be as devastating as he ever was, it's something that makes us all feel a little bit better about ourselves and what we might have to face."

At 34, King is not the oldest all-star -- that honor goes to 37-year-old Robert Parish. But almost no one has gone six years between all-star appearances. And, as King has wanted to say all season, no one has played in an all-star game minus one anterior cruciate ligament.

"Vintage Bernard before the injury was something to behold as well," said Eastern Conference Coach Chris Ford, who selected King to replace Bird in the starting lineup. "But he's playing spectacular basketball this year and it's a credit to his determination that he's been able to come back."

In Thomas's absence, point guard duties will fall to Dumars, who just happens to be playing that role in real life too.

"Last year the game began and Isiah called a couple of sets, and after that, I don't remember anything else being called," Dumars said. "I'd like for {Thomas} to be here. Since he's not I think I'll smile like he does, dribble between my legs real fast, and throw that bounce pass off the floor and the backboard."

Jordan and Milwaukee's Alvin Robertson and Ricky Pierce also will be bringing up the ball.

"We'll have a lot of guys handling the ball out there," Ford said. "One thing is maybe we may not have a true point guard, but we have guys who are good all-around guards. That may be just as important."

Barkley is here by league edict. He wanted to rest his ankle after coming back last week from a stress fracture, but was told if he can play in regular season, he can play here.

The game is a homecoming for several North Carolinians, most prominently Jordan.

"I know I'm pretty much the host of the weekend," he said, "and it's always special to come back home and play in front of family and friends. . . . Fans expect a lot, and I just hope that they understand that we are out to enjoy ourselves too."

On the other side of the floor, the West has five point guards on its roster for a game that has never reminded anyone of a defensive struggle. Off the West bench come Golden State's Tim Hardaway, Utah's John Stockton and Portland's Terry Porter. That gives the West four of the top six assist men in the league.

"We're superior to the East now," Magic Johnson said. "Every team that's come out there {on regular season trips} has not done well. Night in and night out you've got to face a different type of West team. . . . The West has gotten so much better. Any night, you can lose."

"I'm a little surprised I made it," Hardaway said. "I think all five point guards deserve to be here, but it's going to be hard finding time for all of us, I'm sure. {Western Conference Coach Rick Adelman} may have some fun playing us all at the same time for two or three minutes. That'd be fine with me."

The Trail Blazers have three players on the roster -- center Kevin Duckworth is the other -- and Portland guard Danny Ainge took part in the three-point shooting contest tonight.

"It's really a great tribute to the way our team has played the last two years," Drexler said. "Everybody who's here deserves it. The only bad thing about it is that Jerome {Kersey} and Buck {Williams} aren't here to share it with us."

Malone is back in the starting lineup after losing at the polls to A.C. Green last season. Malone then got "hurt" and didn't make the trip to Miami.

"You go from 140,000, 160,000 votes one year," Malone said, and then you get 600-some thousand next year. Maybe they gave me half of A.C.'s too. In Salt Lake I don't know how many we get, but I know we don't get that many."

King got quite a few votes, finishing third to Barkley and Bird in Eastern forward voting. Sunday he will realize the moment that has kept him going all these years.

"Not having played in an all-star game in a while, I just want to have a good time," he said, "and be able to enjoy and remember every minute of the game. Even if I don't score a point I think this is a game I'll always be able to remember with a lot of good memories."