From 1977 to 2002, the New Jersey Nets won exactly one postseason series. Clearly the days between Julius Erving and Jason Kidd was a vast wasteland of misery except one genuine oasis of success. The wellspring of these teams was a no-nonsense power forward whose hard-nosed determination was no mirage.
Charles “Buck” Williams was the real deal.
Debuting in the 1981-82 season, Williams was the main acquisition (along with Otis Birdsong) that catapulted the Nets to a 44-38 record. That represented a 20-win improvement over the previous season. Williams was named an All-Star behind the strength of his 15.5 points and 12 rebounds a game. He also was declared the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.
A 49-win season in 1983 followed and in 1984 the Nets slipped to 45 wins. But that ’84 squad is the one that delivered New Jersey’s lone playoff series victory in the lean years. Williams was superb averaging 18.5 points, 15 rebounds and 60% shooting as the Nets upset the defending champion Philadelphia 76ers. However, that series proved to be Williams’ high-water mark with the Nets. They’d lose in the next round to the Milwaukee Bucks and the franchise slowly crumbled.
By 1989, Williams was a 3x All-Star and in New Jersey’s last two failed playoff runs in 1985 and 1986, he’d averaged 23 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 68% shooting. His ferocious offensive rebounding, his thunderous dunks, his dogged defense were all being thrown away at this point on a mediocre Nets squad.
Fortunately, though, Williams was delivered from misery.
Traded to the Portland Trail Blazers prior to the 1989-90 season, Williams enjoyed a renaissance. His numbers actually declined, but his importance to the Blazers can’t be overstated. He gave the team a frontcourt player who’d take no silliness or shenanigans from the opponent.
In an eerie coincidence, Buck Williams’ arrival in Portland improved the team’s record by 20 wins, just like he had done in New Jersey. Portland won 59 games in 1990, instead of the underwhelming 39 victories they had in 1989. The regular season improvement continued in the playoffs as the Blazers made the NBA Finals that season and again in 1992. Although they’d lose both times, a team that makes the Finals twice in three years is a true success in any era.
A few more seasons for Williams followed until he retired in 1998, and by that point you could certainly say his career was a true success, too. An all-star and a regular on the NBA’s All-Defensive Team, Williams exemplified the best that a rugged, burly power forward could bring to the NBA.
Seasons Played: 1982 – 1998
Rookie of the Year (1982)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1983)
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1990-’91)
2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1988, 1992)
3x All-Star (1982-’83, 1986)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1982)
NBA – 1307 Games
12.8 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 54.9% FG, 66.4% FT
2x FG% Leader (1991-’92)
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1982 – 1998)
1st Rebounds, 12th RPG
23rd FGs Made, 6th FG%
23rd Points, 16th FTs Made
1st Games Played, 1st Minutes Played