Bernard King eligibility saga

Marvin Westwestwords

If you believe Bernard King was the all-time great of Tennessee basketball, you might reasonably conclude that the investigation and authentication of his controversial high school transcript was a historic event.


There was no debate about Bernard’s athletic ability.

There was considerable debate about his academic qualifications. Many college recruiters concluded he would not be eligible under NCAA rules. They departed New York City disappointed and empty-handed.

Stu Aberdeen persisted. He found what he interpreted as proof, a coffee stain on a particular K page of the official record book. A B had been misconstrued as a D. That meant King had a 2.0 average and was admissible to the University of Tennessee.

King scored 42 in his first game as a Volunteer. He was an immediate star.

In time, somebody, from somewhere, just couldn’t stand it. The call to the NCAA insisted King was not qualified to be a college student, that people in Knoxville couldn’t do simple mathematics or were just plain cheating.

The NCAA asked UT President Ed Boling what he had to say about that.

Dr. Boling immediately (or sooner) dispatched two trusted aides, vice chancellor Howard Aldmon and executive assistant Charles E. Smith, to find the answer.

Dr. Charles E. Smith

In two exciting chapters in Smith’s new book, “Journal of a Fast Track Life,” he tells the inside story of that adventure at Fort Hamilton High in Brooklyn, three days devoted to interviews of school personnel and inspection of grade books and the official transcript, errors and more errors and the discovery of nine hours of summer school credits never entered in the records.

“Oversight” was the explanation.

Dr. Smith recalls the comfort of certified copies of this and that. He remembers gaining the courage to punch all the numbers into his own calculator and touching the summary button: 2.00000.

He tells of the delight in delivering the good news to UT officials and Bernard. He recites the highlights of King’s hall-of-fame career and how King never forgot.

In the decades since, the Smith family has used “Bernard King moment” as the measurement of other thrilling things that happened in their lives.

A bunch of thrilling things happened to Bernard. He played in 76 games for Tennessee. He averaged 25.8 points and 13.2 rebounds. His field-goal accuracy average was 59 percent. He was three times SEC player of the year.

His spectacular NBA start was marred by a terrible knee injury, but he fought back and re-achieved greatness.

I preserved a long-ago quote from another outstanding player, Georgia’s Dominique Wilkins, who said a lot with a few words: “I never feared anybody. Bernard King scared the hell out of me. He was a machine.”

King had unbelievable focus. Intensity was off the charts. He maintained a burning desire to succeed. That he was 6-7 and very quick and had springs for legs factored into what he accomplished. For perspective, Tennessee had a 5-1 record against Kentucky during King’s time.

Dr. Smith had some accomplishments, too. In his 32-year career in Tennessee, he was chancellor of UT Nashville (1975-79) and chancellor of UT Martin (1979-85), state commissioner of education (1987-94), and chancellor of Tennessee Board of Regents (1994-2000).

After retirement, he went to Washington to serve two terms (2003-2008) as executive director of The Nation’s Report Card in the George W. Bush administration.

Before he went straight, Charles was editor of two weekly newspapers and the Nashville Banner.

Interesting endorsement of the book: “Dr. Charles Smith has opened his remarkable storehouse of memories and revealed a treasury of experiences which will be a blessing to all those who read them.” – Winfield Dunn, Tennessee governor 1971-75.

Honesty in reporting: Dr. Smith gave me an autographed copy of his book. He didn’t realize his mention of Bernard King made me an excellent prospect to purchase one.

Marvin West invites reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@netzero.com

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