CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charles Barkley had no interest in being here. Bernard King wanted to be here more than anything else in the world.
So, who was the king of the 41st annual NBA All-Star Game? Barkley, the Philadelphia 76ers forward, of course, but that didn't detract from King's pleasure at being a part of the action.
"I had a great time. I certainly enjoyed returning to this level," said King, the Washington Bullets' veteran forward.
"It's something that I've been looking forward to and something that I'll remember for a long time."
And how. Although Barkley, whose 17 points and 22 rebounds paced the East squad to a 116-114 win over the West, earning him the Most Valuable Player award, it was King who was the emotional story of this contest.
King, whose comeback from a severe knee injury six years ago had been well chronicled, drew a standing ovation when he was introduced to the 23,530 at Charlotte Coliseum.
"That was something very special," said King, who responded with a thumbs-up sign. "I think they recognized how hard I've worked to make it back to this point."
King, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while a member of the New York Knicks, has been a productive member of the Bullets' front line for four seasons now.
But only this year, as he stands third in the league in scoring at 29.9 points per game, have people started to notice King's return.
Although King said the emotional highlight for him was being named to the East squad as a reserve two weeks ago, one could see that King was clearly touched to start, in place of the injured Larry Bird.
"The game was not anti-climatic. I enjoyed every minute of it. You don't get a chance to play or watch players like this very often," said King, who had eight points, three assists and three rebounds in 26 minutes.
"Even that pass I got to [Knicks center Patrick] Ewing for that monster slam was all right. When I got him that pass [in the fourth period], I felt like a guard."
From the moment that he was introduced with the other 23 All-Stars, to his meeting with officials as East team captain before the game through the moment that he hit his first shot, a follow attempt at 9:56 of the first quarter, King was enjoying himself fully.
"To see guys that I played against, like Garfield Heard and Jamaal Wilkes and Clifford Ray playing in the Legends Classic [Saturday night] put all of this in perspective for me," said King. "This was fantastic."
The game, alas, seemed to be less than fantastic for the other players and the surprisingly indifferent crowd, generally considered to be the NBA's rowdiest.
The two teams sloshed their way to a combined 51 turnovers, 14 in the first quarter, diminishing the playground nature of the game.
There were bloopers enough to go around, with bad passes here, traveling there and missed communication to go around.
Atlanta Hawks forward Dominique Wilkins committed one of the biggest gaffes in the first period, catching one of his patented windmill tomahawk dunks on the front rim.
"I ran out of gas," said Wilkins, who had sat out the slam-dunk competition the night before, citing a tender Achilles. "My takeoff was good, but I had trouble getting off the ground. It was all a good laugh."
The biggest blooper was yet to come and probably cost the West its 27th loss in 41 games.
But he was double-teamed and the ball was whipped around the perimeter to a wide-open Kevin Johnson of Phoenix, who launched a three-point attempt to win.
"In the huddle before the last play, we were kind of kidding about winning it with a three, so we wouldn't go to overtime. It almost happened," said Kevin Johnson.
The ball seemed destined to go in, except Utah's Karl Malone tried to tip the ball in and was called for basket interference, nullifying the hoop.
"I should have probably left it alone, but I wasn't sure if it was going in," said Malone. "I just wanted to run and hide after I did it."
"From my point of view, it looked like it had a chance to go in," said Magic Johnson. "It was like, 'Yeah, yeah, what is he doing?'