Tonight, former Tennessee and NBA basketball legend Bernard King will be featured in a new “30 for 30″ documentary on ESPN called “Bernie and Ernie.” It focuses on the friendship he enjoyed with fellow New Yorker Ernie Grunfeld while playing for UT in the 1970s.
Volunteer fans will be surprised to see the “Bernie and Ernie” tag as the duo was more commonly known as “The Ernie and Bernie Show” at the time. Chalk it up to marketing. King is a basketball Hall of Famer. Grunfeld — while a tremendous player and the current GM of the Washington Wizards — doesn’t have the name recognition of King, once one of the NBA’s top scorers.
Another way ESPN promotes its programs? By releasing controversial snippets from them. And that’s just what ESPN has done to promote tonight’s show.
The AP is reporting today that King reveals in the documentary that he faced racism while at Tennessee. Specifically, he states that a police officer struck him with the butt of his gun while responding to a loitering charge. It sounds as if there will be more talk on the racism front as well.
King and the University of Tennessee have reconnected during the past decade. King’s jersey was retired at Thompson-Boling Arena in 2007. He began aiding the UT program with pep talks and such. All appeared to be well between alum and school. But one wonders what these “revelations” — Is anyone really surprised that a black man from New York dealt with prejudice in the South 40 years ago? — will have on the King/UT relationship.
“I wish the university and the basketball team all the success in the world,” King told the AP. “I would recommend that any athlete on the basketball side or football side or any sport, I would recommend the University of Tennessee for them. I don’t harbor any bitterness. You can’t go through life like that. It eats you up.”
King added: “Everyone in Knoxville has always been very warm to me during my trips back to town. It’s a different era. It’s a different time. It’s a different generation. Therefore, my interaction with everyone is quite different than it was back then.”
Sounds good, but The Big Story today still ties the words “Tennessee” and “racism” together. Now Vol fans know how Ole Miss fans felt last year.