ESPN wraps up its latest “30 for 30’’ slate Tuesday with “Bernie and Ernie,’’ a film about Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld, guys from Brooklyn and Queens who transformed Tennessee basketball in the 1970s, reunited as Knicks in the 1980s and remain friends in the 2010s.
Their unlikely bond forms the spine of the documentary, but its most arresting moments are King’s recollections of his emotionally distant and physically abusive parents, and of the bigotry he encountered in and around Knoxville.
King recalls a policeman striking him with the butt end of his gun.
“I’ll never forget the warm blood dripping down my face,’’ he says, speaking slowly but forcefully. “You can have your number retired and all of that, but that doesn’t go away. That memory never goes away.’’
The film covers some, but not all, of King’s off-court problems. His words, and the old footage, make it clear he always was most comfortable on one.
“I went on the court,’’ he says, “and I could speak the language of basketball.’’
Addendum: I asked ESPN Films about leaving out some of King's off-court problems and was given this response by a spokesperson:
"This film is not meant to be a bio about Bernard's entire life. The film is about his relationship with Ernie. Bernard's troubles with the law in college and during his career are included in this film and we are aware of the domestic issues after he retired in 1994 and 2004 but ultimately those were not relevant to the specific story of this film. The focus was kept on what happened during his career and then his reunion with Ernie at the jersey retirement ceremonies in 2007 and 2008 as well as the Hall of Fame induction in September. "