The Lowdown: Buck Williams

Years Active: 1982 – 1998
Regular Season Stats: 1307 games, 32.5 mpg
12.8 ppg, 10 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.8 bpg, 0.8 spg, 54.9% FG, 66.4% FT
Postseason Stats: 108 games, 34.4 mpg
11.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.6 bpg, 0.8 spg, 52% FG, 67.2% FT
Accolades: Rookie of the Year (1982), All-Rookie 1st Team (1982), All-NBA 2nd Team (1982), 2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1990-91), 2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1988, ’92), 3x All-Star (1982-83, ’86)

“Desire is the key to rebounding; you have to want that ball,” says Williams. “Good anticipation – knowing where the ball will go- also is important.” Williams relishes the hard-nosed aspect of the pro game. “The physical play in the pros gives you a chance to play without the nitpicking fouls you see in college.,” he says. “It lets you see who’s a man out there.”

– via “Buck Williams: Nets’ rising star”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

At 6-feet-8-inches tall and 215 pounds, Charles Linwood Williams was certainly not the most imposing figure on a basketball court at first glance. However, don’t let the slender frame fool you. When “Buck” stepped on the court, suddenly his agility would present itself. His determination and rough style would throw you off. And he may have been just 215 lbs at the power forward spot, but fight with him for position in the post or for a rebound and you’d quickly determine that all of that weight was composed of muscle.

For 17 years Williams played in the NBA and for 14 of them (1982 to 1995) he was as solid and dependable a PF you could ask for. He appeared in all but 26 games in this span. For the 1st half of this reign of dependable front court terror, he was the star anchor of the New Jersey Nets. The sometimes woeful, the sometimes surprisingly good New Jersey Nets. For the last half of it, he was the final piece of the Trail Blazer puzzle that propelled Portland from team-of-the-future to legitimate championship contender.

Buck’s NBA journey began in the 1981 draft. The top two picks were Mark Aguirre by Dallas and Isiah Thomas by Detroit. Next the New Jersey Nets chose Buck with the 3rd overall pick. Other notable players in that excellent draft class included Rolando Blackman, Tom Chambers, Larry Nance and Danny Ainge. Williams outplayed them all for the Rookie of the Year award. His 15.5 points and 12 rebounds a game helped propel the Nets from 24 wins in the 1980-81 season to 44 his rookie campaign. Williams was selected as an all-star that season and although the Nets succumbed to the Bullets in a 1st-round sweep, it had nonetheless been the 1st winning-season for the franchise since they moved from the ABA to the NBA in 1976.

This immediate, but qualified, success was the routine for the early Nets years of Williams’s career as New Jersey made the playoffs five straight seasons. This is something the franchise wouldn’t repeat until two decades later when Jason Kidd moseyed into the Garden State. It was the dynamic play of Micheal Ray Richardson, Otis Birdsong, Mike Gminski and Williams that turned the also-ran New Jersey nets into a perennial playoff club.

But, again, the success was qualified. The true heights of the club were never truly realized thanks to two events. First was Larry Brown’s sudden and abrupt departure right before the 1983 postseason which left the 49-win Nets in chaos. As we all now know, this would not be the last spur of the moment departure for Brown. Secondly was Richardson’s battles with drugs that robbed Williams of a true co-star.

Still, these Nets provided the memorable dethronement and ouster of the defending-champion Philadelphia 76ers 3-games-to-2 in the opening round of the 1984 playoffs. In the decisive game 5, New Jersey won by 3 points with Williams contributing his typical, workman-like stat line of 17 points and 16 rebounds. The upstart Nets met their end in the next round against the Milwaukee Bucks and there began the inexorable decline.

Two more postseasons followed, but both were sweeps. Williams valiantly averaged 23 points, 11 rebounds and 68% (!!!) shooting from the field in these demoralizing defeats. Then the Nets’ ship officially capsized in 1987 as they finished with 24 wins. In 1988 it was 19 wins. Things “improved” in 1989 with 26 wins. Williams was now turning 30 and with his most prodigious years behind him, he received welcomed news of a trade to a contender. He’d go from coast-to-coast and to the cusp of being a champion.

oregonianphoto (flickr)

Buck Williams would spend 7 seasons as a Portland Trail Blazer and in a strange parallel with his arrival in New Jersey, Buck’s arrival in Portland catapulted the Blazers to a 20-win improvement in the 1989-90 season. The Blazers were a 59-win juggernaut that season, a 63-win behemoth the next year and 57-win leviathan in 1992. Although they fell short both times, twice the Blazers reached the NBA Finals in this span while the other year they merely made it to the Western Conference Finals. Watching Williams tangle with Dennis Rodman and Horace Grant is just a whole lot of nasty both ways.

In my opinion, this squad of Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey, Kevin Duckworth, Clifford Robinson and Williams goes down as the one of the great teams to never win a title. This three-year stretch would be the pinnacle of Buck’s membership with superb teams, but the Blazers did win at least 44 games and make the playoffs every season he was in Oregon . No more all-star games were in the cards for Williams but he did secure 3 All-Defensive Team selections in the early 1990s.

Off the court, Buck was also proving to be one of the more nuanced and thoughtful individuals about topics beyond what went occurred on the court. In an interview in 1991 with Sports Illustrated, Williams expressed his gratitude for men like Willis Reed, Clyde Frazier and Hank Aaron as examples of African-Americans who were steadily moving up the hierarchy of professional sports and paved the way for him. Additionally, he believed he was charged with the same duty of paving the way for future generations.

Later in the interview Williams highlights a particularly surprising, initially, choice for an idol in boxer Jack Johnson:

A lot of black athletes feel that if they speak out, their shoulders had better be strong enough to carry the burden. I idolize Jack Johnson. I talk about him all the time, because he was the first black heavyweight champ. And what I like most about him is the fact that he was his own man. He was not going to let anyone tell him what his place was in society. Anyone who speaks up today is labeled. People say you have an “attitude.” Players today are afraid to get that label. A lot of them say things in the locker room that they would never, ever say publicly.

True to this spirit, Williams served as the president of the NBA Players Association in the mid-1990s and after his playing career finished up with two seasons as a Knick, he has gone into the construction business while raising money for various charities. One of the more selfless but demanding teammates in the NBA’s history Williams is certainly continuing that attitude off the court.

But don’t forget how dominating he was on the court. Williams is surpassed only by Julius Erving and Jason Kidd in terms of true on-court stature in Nets history. He is currently that franchise’s all-time leader in games played, minutes played, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, total rebounds, points, and win shares. His mark on the Trail Blazers isn’t as markedly, immediately pronounced, but it is certainly there. He ranks in the top 5 in defensive, offensive and total rebounds, field goal percentage, and win shares while sitting in the top 10 in games and minutes played.

And if all this still leaves you unimpressed. Well, how about this: Williams is one of only 13 players in NBA history to rack up over 13,000 points and 13,000 rebounds.

Still not impressed? Then just dig the goggles, baby…

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