Wes Unseld doesn't remember exactly when he saw Charles Barkley for the first time. But he has no trouble recalling his immediate impression.
"I thought he'd be good because he had an aggressive nature," said Unseld, coach of the Washington Bullets. "And I tend to think people are scared of guys who are aggressive -- guys who talk a lot, guys who huff and puff."
Unseld also remembers watching Bernard King start his comeback 3 1/2 years ago. He had just moved into the NBA coaching ranks, and King was returning with a reconstructed knee after an absence of two years. The Knicks had given up on him and few observers gave him much of a chance to resume a spectacular career.
"I'm not amazed by what Bernard is doing now," said Unseld. "I'm amazed at what he did then."
Barkley and King will present an interesting contrast of marquee players tonight (7:30) when the Bullets and Philadelphia 76ers meet at the Arena.
Bullets officials said today there are plenty of seats-" plenty of good $12.50 and $17.50 seats",said a PR person-available to fans who may choose the walk-up route tonight.
Since the day he joined the 76ers, Barkley has been one of the NBA's most flamboyant performers. He talks as good a game as he plays, or vice versa, and he's a focal point of attention from the opening tipoff to the final buzzer.
King is almost methodical in his approach to the game, and sometimes isn't noticed until the box score is official. He isn't fast, has below average jumping ability and doesn't possess exceptional shooting skills.
Barkley puts the ball in the basket with flair. King does it with anticipation.
Unseld, who became head coach in the early part of King's first season (1987-88) with the Bullets, appreciates the qualities of both forwards.
Barkley sometimes looks like an NBA version of Buster Douglas, with a body that can best be described as bulky. Despite a listed weight of 252, Barkley is small (6 feet 6) by professional standards for a forward. But he plays a lot taller than his height -- and quicker than his weight.
"The thing most people don't understand is how quick he is, and how good his hands are," said Unseld. "He is a very deceptive player."
In Unseld's eyes, the only drawback for Barkley has nothing to do with his playing ability. "I think he would rank as one of the top super-stars if he didn't clown around so much," said Unseld. "He does everything as good as they [other superstars] do."
But if Barkley's individuality sometimes gets in the way of his acceptance, his performance leaves no doubt about where he belongs. He has been an All-NBA choice the last three years, was runner-up in the MVP voting last year, led the league in rebounding in his third season (1986-87) and is currently second in the scoring race with a 29.3 average (behind Michael Jordan's 29.7).
The man right behind Barkley in the scoring race (with a 29.2 average) is King, who has averaged 20.7 and 22.4 points per game the last two years.
"The only difference between Bernard now and in those two years is the fact that he's taking five more shots per game," said Unseld, who says King should get a spot in the All-Star Game.
"If he's not an All-Star, then something's wrong with the whole system," said Unseld. "There's not another player in the league that other teams focus on more than Bernard.
"There are other guys you have to focus on, but you still have to worry about somebody else [scoring]. Until Harvey Grant started giving us a lift recently, other teams haven't focused on anybody zTC except Bernard. You tell me anybody else who is doing a better job, especially under those circumstances."
The development of Grant has not only taken some of the load off King, but it also has given the Bullets a spark.
"I'm not getting excited over winning three in a row," said Unseld, "but I think we've played pretty consistently all year long. We've been getting good efforts from everybody and that's what I'm mostly concerned about right now."