Before Sunday's National Basketball Association All-Star Game in Charlotte, N.C., Bernard King of the Washington Bullets and Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks talked of the way it might have been in New York.
They managed to play six games together for the Knicks at the end of the 1986-87 season, when King first tested his surgery-scarred knee after almost two years of rehabilitation. New York opted not to re-sign King, who has made his amazing comeback in a Bullets uniform the past four seasons.
The Knicks have searched without success for King's successor at small forward. At the same time, the Bullets have hungered for a legitimate center.
Now there is the new twist of Ewing's making veiled threats of leaving the Knicks and resurfacing next season in Washington. Some treat it as simply a contractual ploy, while others say Ewing is not one for idle gossip.
"I've never thought I'd be talking about playing somewhere else," Ewing told Newsday, "but nothing has been done on my !B contract, and more than anything I want to win.
"I want to stay in New York, but I like Washington and I live there in the off-season. That's the only other place I like other than New York or maybe Boston [where he spent his teen-age years.] I could win a title with the Celtics."
Ewing said he would follow Magic Johnson's example in deferring part of his $4.25 million-a-year contract if the Knicks put the money to good use in acquiring an established player to help end the team's tailspin.
"Obviously, our talent level isn't what it was two years ago," Ewing said. "We no longer have Rod Strickland, Johnny Newman or Sidney Green. I was shocked when we didn't match Charlotte's offer this year for Newman. He was a big part of our success.
"If I were to defer money, I would want to have input in who the club might obtain. But no one has been asking my opinion."
When the Knicks lost to the Celtics at home before the All-Star break, Ewing was booed by the fans for a lackluster effort. "That's just New York," he said. But it could play a part in his travel plans.
* Problem child: When the Knicks made their controversial deal last February with San Antonio that sent Strickland, 24, to the Spurs for Maurice Cheeks, 34, the rumors were that New York was trading a headache for a savvy backcourt leader.
During his 1 1/2 seasons in New York, Strickland was guilty of missing practices, planes and having periods of pouting for not starting ahead of Mark Jackson. Knicks general manager Al Bianchi also suggested he did not like the company Strickland was keeping off the court.
Strickland seemingly turned over a new leaf in San Antonio, but it did not last too long. Earlier this month, he became involved in a barroom fracas, fractured his right thumb and will be sidelined from three to six weeks, leaving the Spurs without a proven playmaker.
Strickland said he was in the bar with two of his brothers and two friends. Upon leaving, his brother Steven was accosted by a mob of at least 10 patrons, and Strickland rushed to his defense.
Said teammate David Robinson, the All-Star center: "Everybody really supports Rod. He's no different than the rest of us. He goes out for a good time. If my brother were getting beaten, I'd do the same. But his injury is a big blow to our team. He may be the second-most important part of our team after Coach [Larry] Brown.
* Magic act: When the Lakers' Magic Johnson was knocked unconscious at the Forum against the Bulls recently, he returned to action the next game. Said teammate Mychal Thompson, "He'll play as long as he can spell his name and count his money."
Added Johnson: "Now I know how Mike Tyson's opponents must feel. But if I'm going to get $25 million for it, I don't mind blacking out."
* Pumping Air: Rival players put the Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan a higher league. Said Detroit Pistons guard Joe Dumars: "I can't see people saying Michael was just OK for the era he played in. I think he's going to be OK for the time before us and 20 years down the line. He's going to be someone that people will look back on and say he was unbelievable."
* Rocket scientist: Houston Rockets coach Don Chaney sees some good in the eye injury that has shelved his All-NBA center, Akeem Olajuwon. "What it does is force Akeem to develop respect for the other players who have been winning without him," Chaney said. "And some of these same guys have found not only respect for Akeem, but respect for themselves."
* Swap shop: The Knicks still are trying to lure shooting guard Tony Campbell from Minnesota. They have offered forward Kenny Walker and guard Gerald Wilkins, but the Timberwolves aren't biting. New York is now using rookie forward Jerrod Mustaf of Maryland as trade bait.
Another hot rumor has Milwaukee offering sixth man Ricky Pierce to the L.A. Clippers for forward Ken Norman. Pierce is seeking a hefty pay raise and long-term contract. The Clippers, however, are not eager to part with Norman.
* Going to Blazers: Knicks coach John MacLeod calls the Portland Trail Blazers' acquisition of forward Walter Davis from the Denver Nuggets "the final piece to the puzzle" in building a championship team.
Said MacLeod: "He's flat out one of the best shooters in the game. I've seen him enough times to know that not only does he want the shot, he makes it. Davis may have one of the best shooting strokes of all time."