Friday, December 1, 2017

Review: Game Face (2017)

By Bernard King with Jerome Preisler

There's a lot to admire about the life of Bernard King.

He grew up in a tough part of New York with a family that featured a distant, alcoholic father and a mother who really had little clue on how to raise children. Even so, he managed to become one of the best basketball players in the city, and earned a scholarship at Tennessee. From there, King became an All-American for the Volunteers - although he encountered some 1970s-style racism along the way.

The forward left college early to turn pro, and made the transition to the NBA smoothly on the court - although he had some problems off it. King certainly deserved eventual status as a Hall of Famer.

Now 25 years later, he's written down his account of his life in his autobiography, "Game Face." And it's interesting that King's biggest obstacle - and the one he discusses at the start of the book - had nothing to do with anything listed above.

King suffered about as bad a knee injury as you could find without getting involving in some sort of traffic accident or other disaster. He jumped in the air during a game and knew he was in trouble even before he landed. Doctors looked at him and wondered if he would ever walk normally again. Basketball figured to be in the past, not in his future.

But King worked hard, harder and hardest. He was sidelined for about two years before finally returning to the NBA. King played three full years after the injury, and got his scoring average back up to 28.4 points per game. It was a remarkable comeback.

It's easy to split this book into two parts, one more compelling than the other. King's early years are the interesting ones. His father wouldn't even let him play basketball (or do anything else) outside on Sundays until Bernard defied him. His mother apparently used a strap on him more than one, because that how she was raised. As a result, King said he felt better hiding his feelings behind a "game face" - don't let them know what you are thinking, particularly on the court. Let me assure those who are too young to remember that King was a true handful when playing - a pure scorer who earned his points every single night.

The second half of the story doesn't work as well. One of the obvious reasons is that he played with some mediocre teams over the years - emphasis on "teams," since he bounced around quite a bit through five teams. King didn't come close to playing for an NBA champion. That's not his fault, but it will be noticed by the reader.

Also missing and a little puzzling is the lack of material on younger brother Albert. He was the finest high school player in the country as a senior, and he went on to play at Maryland and then to the pros. Albert isn't even mentioned in the front half of the book, only coming up  when the two players met in the postseason.

Albert isn't alone in that description. Bernard's first wife doesn't even have her name mentioned. Also avoided is how King got away from alcohol and drug abuse, a habit he picked up early in his career. And the picture painted about what King has been doing after basketball seems incomplete. He's done some broadcasting work; let's hope he took care of his money and moved happily into middle age.

Naturally, any book written about an athlete from the 1970s or 1980s is going to feel like ancient history to some. Even so, "Game Face" lets us have a peak at a man who admits he didn't like telling much about himself back in the day. Therefore, those in the proper demographic will find this worth a read.

Three stars

Learn more about this book.

Be notified of new posts on this site via Twitter @WDX2BB.

No comments:

Post a Comment