It didn’t take long to recall my best memory, the first Bullets game I’d ever attended. The scene was the home opener at the Capital Centre in early November 1990, the second game of the year for both the Washington Bullets and the Chicago Bulls. I was just a 10-year old kid, ready to witness Michael Jordan live for the first time. Little did I know at the onset of that night, a guy named Bernard King would be the star of the show.
The Bulls were fresh off losing to the Detroit Pistons in seven games in the 1990 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, their 6th straight pre-NBA Finals playoff exit in the Michael Jordan era. The Bullets, well, they were fresh off a 31-51 season. My memory of a game which took place around 18 years ago is understandably fuzzy, so you must forgive me if I turned to some newspaper/internet archives for help. All I knew was that the way Bernard King was raining jumpers, ultimately to the tune of 44 points, he just had to be in the zone….and that was before I even knew the definition of ‘being in the zone.’
The Bulls ran the likes of Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen, and even Michael Jordan at King….not that Bernard even had time to distinguish who was guarding him on the 30 shots he took, making 14. King was even quoted in the papers as saying, “When you’re shooting mostly jump shots, you really don’t have time to think about how they’re going to play you defensively. You’re just looking for an opening.”
Seemingly the only one that could get in the way of the 34-year old King was Bullets coach, Wes Unseld. “The only time he missed was when I came over and diagrammed one [play],” said Unseld.
Despite a scoring battle between two stars, King and his 44 points over Jordan’s 28, it was still an ugly, foul-plagued game. Seventy-five fouls were called between the two teams, an explanation of why King scored 16 of his points from the free-throw line on 21 attempts. Air Jordan was only able to gain six points on nine trips to the charity stripe.
Bulls coach Phil Jackson called it, “one of the ugliest games I’ve either participated in or watched,” and continued denoting the history made upon his ears, “The number of foul shots, fouls and bad calls that were made in the game . . . I don’t think I’ve ever heard hometown fans boo an official for a call he didn’t make on the visiting team……That’s the first time in history I’ve heard that.”
Despite all the politicized complaints from Jackson, his superstar for the ages in the making, Michael Jordan, still had a chance at the end. Down 103-102 with 18 seconds left and the ball, the outcome was in Jordan’s hands. He drove towards the hoop, to the shrills of the sold-out Cap Centre, only to get denied by Harvey Grant’s block, and see the victory, and ball, secured by the game’s hero, Bernard King.
The Bulls would go on to win the first of six NBA championships, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the ’91 NBA Finals. The Bullets would only secure 30 wins on the ’90-91 season on the way to countless years of mediocrity. But that night, I left Landover, Maryland a full-fledged fan of Bernard King and my hometown Washington Bullets.
Note: Bullets Forever has the Bullets/Wizards game memory thread going on, including one from Hoops Avenue.
[Update] Suggested Reading:
- Gilbert’s Favorite Memories From Each Stadium – Gilbertology
- BF #11 – Bernard King – Bullets Forever
- Bernard King: One of the Greatest SFs Ever! – Jones On The NBA
- Box Score – Basketball-Reference.com
- “Bullets Rise to Occasion As King’s 44 Nail Bulls,” The Washington Post (Nov. 4, 1990) by David Aldridge.
- “Bulls’ record stays `perfect’ // As in perfectly awful start: 0-2,” The Chicago Sun-Times (Nov. 4, 1990) by Dave Hoekstra.