STACEY KING, JOURNALISM MAjor and media darling, has stopped
talking. This is news. KING MUTED! OKLAHOMA'S GABBY CENTER RENDERED
MOMENTARILY MUM. The cause of the pause is the question he has just
been asked: How would he write the lead to the story of his life?
Within a minute or so, over an untouched hamburger at lunch in
Norman, Okla., King recovers. ''I'd make people cry about me,'' he
says. ''I'd write about all the problems I had, and then, whoosh!
It'd be like: 'Stacey King, battling back from adversity, grade
problems, not being able to play, finally got his chance.' ''
A promising start. Since getting that chance last season, when he
moved back into the starting lineup, the 6 ft. 10 in. King has become
the kind of player made for the pros -- and for prose. He was rarely
at a loss for anything in 1987-88: points (22.5 a game), rebounds
(8.6 a game), blocks (100, a school record), nicknames (the King, the
Pearl, Sky, the Juggernaut, Ceramic -- take your pick), Sooner
victories (35 in 39 games) or words.
Especially words. Ask for an autograph and you'll get a page-long
preamble. Ask a question and the answer will be multiple choice. The
King is warming to the assignment now:
''I'd say, 'Here's a guy who has everything going for him. He'll
probably be a millionaire, and he handles everything in order. He's a
regular guy, doesn't go around driving a sports car or borrowing
money. Just a guy who doesn't want to be on a pedestal. A guy who has
But it wasn't always fun, as he's quick to point out. As a
second-semester freshman, King lost his eligibility, largely because
he didn't make it to classes as a first-semester freshman. ''When
Jack Frost was nipping at my toes, I was in bed,'' King says. ''My
mom said, 'Boy, you'd better go to class or you'll be sitting down
next semester,' but I didn't listen to her. And sure enough -- boom!
-- I'm sitting on the sidelines in my street clothes, cheering like a
The King family of Lawton, Okla., is not fond of excuses, and it
wasn't having any from Stacey. His father, James, is a former
defensive end at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., and an
artillery first sergeant who served 25 years in the army, including
two tours in Vietnam. On one of those tours he earned the Soldier's
Medal for bravery when he drenched himself in water to battle a fire
that was threatening to blow up a munitions dump. James is the
strong, silent type, though some would say he has no choice in the
silent part. Stacey's mom, Lois, isn't shy when it comes to speaking
her mind. When, as part of its recruiting strategy, Oklahoma sent a
wine-red limo to pick up Stacey at Lawton High without consulting his
mother, Lois was livid. ''We want him to work hard and get a good
education and not think that life is a bed of roses when most of
the time it's a bed of thorns,'' she said.
''My mom was a real hit in the newspapers,'' Stacey says. ''She
said, 'I don't want my baby to go to Oklahoma. I want him to be able
to read a stop sign.' ''
So Lois was hardly happy when Stacey's grades dipped. ''We didn't
have a Leave It to Beaver-type conversation,'' says Stacey. She sat
him down with a pen and a piece of paper, made him write one list of
goals and another of priorities and then had him explain both to her.
The goals included graduating on time and developing each year as a
person both on and off the court; the priorities were studying hard,
not worrying about peer pressure and understanding the value of his
''I told him, 'Anytime you think you might want to get off on the
wrong track, you take these out and look at them and say I wrote
these for my mother,' '' Lois says. King made the dean's list the
next semester, and his grade point average is now a respectable 2.6.
King's academic woes and the way he overcame them are now favored
topics, especially when he speaks to youngsters, as he recently did
at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Treatment Center in Tecumseh.
''There are always ways to get into trouble, like killing
somebody,'' King said. ''There's always something to do. People are
like ants. They see one guy trying to get on top, and they try to
pull him down to the bottom of the pile, because that's where they
''Now, I have the highest respect for nerds. They realize there's
something out there they want, and they're going to do whatever it
takes to get their goal. They'll sacrifice parties, they'll sacrifice
walking on campus and having people laugh at them because they wear
funny clothes and glasses. They'll risk that to get ahead, and they
are ahead.'' King talks for 20 minutes, and it's clear from the
attention the kids give him that his remarks hit home.
After a scrimmage between the center's teachers and the visiting
Sooners, a girl asked King for the shirt off his back. He gave her
the sweat-drenched gray T, and she hugged it lovingly. Would she wash
it? ''I don't know. Maybe in a couple of weeks,'' she said.
''Kids are great because they're curious about everything,'' King
says. ''You tell them it's raining, and they'll look at you and say,
In high school King was much the same player he is today -- quick,
running the floor well, with a nice touch around the basket and a
knack for blocking shots -- but he weighed only 180 pounds, 50 less
than now, and he was a 90- pound weakling when it came to pumping
iron. Now he can bench 235. ''After I graduated high school, I about
sprouted from 6 ft. 7 in. to 6 ft. 10 in.,'' King says. ''I was real
thin when I came in here, real thin. I'd be lifting weights trying to
gain weight; then we'd run on the track and I'd lose it. After we got
done running, I'd go back out to see if I could find it. I never
KING EARNED A STARTING SLOT as a freshman, but then came his grade
troubles. He started again as a sophomore, but he was inconsistent
and was benched. ''That zapped my confidence,'' says King. He
recovered it before last season, when Sooner coach Billy Tubbs told
him, ''Your time in the sun is coming. Make sure you have sunglasses
on, because it's going to be bright.'' As the year began, opposing
defenses were geared toward stopping Harvey Grant, Oklahoma's other,
more heralded low-post man. King got off to a fast start and never
stopped; while Grant suffered from flu in midseason, King scorched
Iowa State for 55 points, 30 rebounds and 10 blocks in back-to-back
Sooner wins. The King became the Juggernaut. ''That's like a guy
who's wreaking havoc everywhere,'' he says. ''But in basketball, it's
a guy who's playing well, who's got obstacles in his way but cannot
''Stacey has come around,'' says Tubbs. ''But I still think he has
some room for improvement. He may have just scratched the surface.''
A creature of habit, King follows the same routine before every
Oklahoma home game: He rubs a 12-year-old rabbit's foot in his dorm
room and lovingly touches three Michael Jordan posters on his walls,
contemplates a picture of his late friend Len Bias, whom King had met
on a recruiting visit to Maryland, goes to the bathroom and prays,
takes extra shooting practice at the arena, winks at his mother in
the stands, and then wishes each of the three referees a good game
with a pat on the butt. ''If I'm being nice to them, they might give
me a break,'' King says.
Away from basketball, King indulges his interest in writing,
whether for The Oklahoma Daily, for which he recently did an article
on the goals of the university's mentorship program for minority
students, or a four-page letter that convinced a judge that King had
not run a red light and hence should not have to pay a $65 fine for
the alleged violation. The judge isn't the only one he has tried to
set straight. This year he has been giving tips to his younger
brother, Darryl, who was the Oklahoma high school player of the year
last season and is a freshman at Midland (Texas) Junior College. ''I
think I'm better than Stacey,'' the 6 ft. 9 in. Darryl says. In
Lawton, Stacey is actually thought of as shy and retiring compared to
Despite his verbosity, Stacey has seldom put his foot in his
mouth. He always credits his teammates: ''If I had a knife, I'd cut
all the awards I've won in half and give each player one.'' He cried
after last year's 83-79 loss to Kansas in the NCAA final, an
especially painful defeat because the Sooners had handily beaten the
Jayhawks twice during the regular season, and because King hardly saw
the ball in the second half. Publicly he credited the victors, and he
has many kind words for Kansas star Danny Manning: ''If I had to
pattern myself after a guy, it'd be him.'' And he shrugged it off
when John Thompson made him one of the last cuts from the U.S.
Olympic team: ''Hey, that's as the cookie crumbles.''
''Maybe Stacey's future is not only in basketball but in
politics,'' says Tubbs.
Or maybe it's in journalism. A little sleuthing about one of his
nicknames uncovered that when Stacey was a kid he used to play with
his mother's pottery a lot. Hence the tag Ceramic. ''The press can
find out anything!'' marveled King, when confronted with this info.
''Don't ever do nothing bad.''
Which is a fitting end to the story Stacey King began.