LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BVM) — Ron King, 69, still knows his way around a basketball court today. While he hasn’t played in an organized league basketball game for a couple decades, King kept his love for the sport at the forefront of his life, first working in the California Community Center in west Louisville beginning in 1978 before moving to the Louisville Parks and Recreation department in 1999. Following 20 years of service in the park district, King decided this summer it was time to retire which would put an end to his work near the basketball court.
“I loved doing what I was doing, but with (the pandemic) going on the centers are not open,” King said. “I would’ve still been in it if it wasn’t for the pandemic. I probably still would’ve been doing it even as old as I am because I love what I was doing.”
Though he may not be around basketball courts nearly as often as he once was, King’s accomplishments on the hardwood will never be forgotten by the state of Kentucky.
King’s basketball journey began when he started playing organized games at DuValle Junior High School. Back then, Central High School was known as an area power in basketball and, perhaps for the only time in his life, King was intimidated.
“I went to see Central play when I was in eighth grade,” King said. “It was sold out and people that couldn’t get in were on the roof to see the game. I was like ‘This is crazy for a high school game.’ … My daddy said, ‘You’re going to Central.’ I said, ‘Daddy, I can’t play for Central, they’re real good!’ I didn’t think I was that good at the time. He said, ‘Boy, you’re going to Central that’s all it is!’ So I ended up going to Central and it was the best thing to happen to me.”
Eventually, the sophomore King would become a key piece for the Yellowjackets. While the program had a history of producing quality teams, Central had never been able to make it over the hump to contend for a state championship. However, that all changed when King joined the team. During his senior year in 1969, King helped the Yellowjackets to breakthrough as the high-scoring shooting guard made Central’s offense nearly unstoppable on his own.
“When I played there were no close games,” King said. “We beat everybody by double figures or more. … We were that good.”
The Yellowjackets would finish the year 35-1 with a Kentucky High School Athletic Association state championship over Ohio County, 101-72. King was a critical piece for Central’s success, contributing 44 points in the championship on his way to a tournament all-state selection. That wouldn’t be the only recognition King would receive that year either as he was also named all-state, All-American and was the 1969 Mr. Kentucky Basketball.
“That was probably one of the best feelings ever,” King said. “I broke the record at the time and we didn’t have 3-pointers then. If we had 3-pointers, I probably would’ve had 60 points. … When I got (Mr. Basketball) I was elated to be the first (Central player to win) because I never thought it would happen.”
King was unsurprisingly a highly-recruited commodity. Although he had offers from basketball powers like Louisville, Kentucky, Michigan and Purdue, King wouldn’t sign unless the team offered his teammate, 5-foot-7 guard Otto Petty, a spot too, which most refused due to Petty’s small stature. However, Florida State head coach Hugh Durham knew that the star wouldn’t go without Petty and offered Petty a scholarship which he would accept. King would follow and would continue his brand of high scoring offensive play for the Seminoles.
“Me and Otto Petty were a package deal because we were like magic; we knew each other so well,” King said. “I wasn’t going nowhere without him, it’s just as simple as that. … Hugh knew I was going to go where Otto went so after Otto signed, the next week I went with him.”
During his time with the Seminoles, King rewrote the record book. It didn’t take long for King’s offensive prowess to be on full display as during his sophomore year of 1970-71, King dropped 46 points against Georgia Southern, which still stands as the school record for most points by a player in a single game. The biggest reason why King lit up the scoreboard was that his mom was in the stands, only the second time she had seen one of his games since he started playing at Central.
“I got 46 points that night so I guess it was because she was there,” King said. “I wanted to do good for her. … That record still stands to this day which I don’t understand with the 3-pointers they got. It’s amazing.”
That year, the offense ran through King as he averaged 22.7 points, which ranked as the third-best single-season average in FSU history at the time and still ranks No. 5 in school history. His junior season of 1971-72 would be the most memorable for both King and Seminoles fans alike.
That year, Florida State would be the surprise Cinderella of the NCAA Tournament, advancing all the way to the national championship game for the only time in program history against a John Wooden coached UCLA team. Though the Seminoles would fall, 81-76, King would again make his presence felt as he would score 27 points against the Bruins which would earn him NCAA all-tournament honors. Even though he had a great game, King thinks that if he wasn’t sat for 10 minutes by his coach the Seminoles would’ve ended up winning it all.
“My thought was, ‘They don’t know me, I think I’m the best there is,’ that was my mindset going into the game,” King said. “If I had played the whole 40 minutes there is no doubt in my mind that we would’ve beat them.”
King would finish his career at Florida State University as one of the best basketball players the school had ever seen. King’s 1,252 points still rank in the top 25 in Seminoles history and his 19.6 points per game in a career is No. 4 in program history. Though the critique of his game was that he was just a scorer, King has words for the doubters.
“Coach always said, ‘Everybody says you’re not a defensive player.’ I said, ‘I might not have been a defensive player, but my man never outscored me so I played better defense on him than he did on me,’” King said. “My man never outscored me, never.”
Following his college career, King would be drafted in the fourth round of the 1973 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors, but rather than join the NBA, King would return home, signing a contract with the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels. King’s American professional career would last just one season with the Colonels, where he played in nine games and averaged 7.1 points per contest in the 1973-74 campaign. King would eventually play overseas where his career ended in Israel. King’s biggest career regret was not joining the Warriors as his time in Kentucky spelled doom for a young and confident professional.
“I should’ve went to Golden State, that’s the only regret I do have,” King said. “I thought all you had to do was play good ball and I was playing good ball. … Because I was local (I felt) I didn’t need them. … I didn’t stay with the team and be a part of them and I thought I didn’t need that, so they ended up letting me go.”
King’s skills on the basketball court would not soon be forgotten though as he would be inducted into the Florida State University Athletics Hall of Fame in 1988 while also having his jersey honored by the program in 2009. He would also be inducted into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014, solidifying his place as one of the best to ever play in the Commonwealth. While his basketball career may not have lasted as long as he had hoped, King’s time with basketball was not over following his retirement.
In 1978, King became the youth director at the California Community Center. A couple decades later he would join the Louisville Metro Parks department. Sometimes King would even challenge the kids to shooting contests just to prove that, even in his old age, he is still one of the best pure shooters the city has ever produced.
“I am just happy because I was the best shooter there was,” King said.
Now retiring from his post after 42 years of service in the city’s parks and recreation community, King will take his basketball talent with him. That won’t stop him from stepping up to an on-court challenge though, and challengers be warned, his tongue is as deadly as his jumper even to this day.
“I’m 69 and I think I can still outshoot any of these young guys if we just shoot,” King said. “I still can shoot it.”