The healing of Scott Williams:
On the outside, there is the scar on the right shoulder, the result of off-season surgery to correct the problem of having it pop out of joint.
On the inside, there are no scars because the wounds are still there. But, finally, they, too, are healing.
It has been a long time coming, this healing, 4 1/2 years. That’s how long it has been since Williams’ parents, Al and Rita Williams, died in a murder-suicide. Scott, after starring at Wilson High in Hacienda Heights, was a sophomore at North Carolina at the time.
He is now a second-year pro, the first big man off the bench for the Chicago Bulls in the NBA finals against the Portland Trail Blazers and making a significant contribution.
He is getting attention for being the 6-foot-10, 230-pound player who was undrafted but has passed other more highly touted prospects, such as Stacey King and Will Perdue, on the depth chart. He is earning the recognition that comes with shooting 57.1% and averaging eight rebounds and 5.7 points for the first three games.
“He has the best physical tools of any of our big men,” said Tex Winter, Chicago assistant coach.
But so much of Williams remains with what happened the evening of Oct. 15, 1987, for better or worse.
“For one particular reason or another, maybe a memory of seeing a car that reminds me of a family car we had,” he said. “It makes you think back and reminisce about the good ol’ times and wish you could share these good times with your parents.
“There were good times and bad times growing up, but at the same time everything is precious. Life is so precious and so short, and you want to make the most of it. That’s what I’m trying to do now. I’m trying to make my folks proud, go out here on the basketball court and do my thing. I know they’re looking down on me real proud.”
According to reports, Al Williams, despondent about being separated from his wife, was in the garage of her apartment complex when she returned from work. Before she could get out of the car, he shot her, then turned the gun on himself.
North Carolina Coach Dean Smith had to tell Williams both his parents were dead. An assistant coach, Bill Guthridge, accompanied Williams from Chapel Hill for the funeral. Smith was there, as were James Worthy and Mitch Kupchak, both former Tar Heels.
Williams has always been the kind of person whose feelings were as obvious as his size. He still has a smile that stretches from cheekbone to cheekbone. And as during his high school days, everyone knows when he disagrees with the call of a referee. When he had contract problems with the Bulls in the fall, he wasn’t shy about criticizing the front office, even after a rookie season that had consisted of only 409 minutes, playoffs included.
But the most personal matters were not for public consumption. Only now does Williams talk about the tragic events.
“I’ve had a lot personal problems and personal tragedies, and I’ve said all along I can face anything,” he said. “There is nothing that will knock me off stride or shake my confidence and make me think that I can’t accomplish something. All that I’ve had to deal with has made me a tougher person.”
Even the deaths of his parents.
“Basketball was a good outlet for me,” he said in an even tone. “It took my mind off things, even when I was smaller. I would throw myself into playing, and it was something that would always be a good escape. I’d go out there, run up and down the floor, work up a good sweat, get tired and go home and go to sleep.
“It challenged me at first. It tested my character and my faith. It’s something I don’t wish on anybody. A lot of times, people ask me, ‘Talk to so-and-so, they’ve gone through personal problems.’ But I think every situation is a little bit different, every situation is unique.
“I try to help when I can, but at the same point, (the healing) is something that takes time. I’ll have my bad days from time to time, wishing my parents could be out here with the rest of the families.”
Aunts and uncles, some from Southern California, come to the games. A brother lives in North Carolina, and Williams has friends in Chicago. So he still has a support system.
And his own accomplishments are confidence building.
Undrafted because teams were concerned about his shoulder, he had about a dozen offers to play in summer league and come to training camps without guaranteed money. Williams picked the Bulls because he believed he could stick on a front line that had an aging Bill Cartwright and underachievers King and Perdue, and because of Michael Jordan.
Jordan, also from North Carolina, has something of a fraternal feeling for other Tar Heels. Two seasons ago, he lobbied management to get Walter Davis from Denver. So, when he left a message with Williams on the Bulls’ behalf, Williams figured he would get a fair chance with the star in his corner and signed with Chicago as a free agent.
Once Williams made the team, the locker he got was next to Jordan’s. It is more than a coincidence.
“I wanted him next to me so I could hammer him,” Jordan said.
“Keep him in line.”
It would be an exaggeration, Williams said, to say that Jordan has become something of a professional big brother. But he is also quick to acknowledge that if anyone has looked out for him on the Bulls, it is Jordan.
“I don’t think it’s showing favoritism,” Jordan said. “He’s got all that potential and sometimes just needs an extra push. Coming from the same system, it’s a lot easier. If he’s willing to take the push, I’m willing to give it.”
Williams played sparingly as a rookie, but the Bulls thought enough of his potential to want him back after the shoulder surgery. But Williams thought they were trying to stall to see how Mark Randall, the No. 1 pick of 1991, developed before making a contract commitment.
Williams called it “bush league,” saying the club could have signed him a lot quicker.
He still didn’t have a contract on opening night, but he joined teammates when they were awarded championship rings for beating the Lakers. He signed on Nov. 11, the day before the seventh game, for two years, but the $350,000 per season meant he would remain the lowest-paid player on the team.
Putting hard feelings behind, he went from playing in 51 regular-season games to 63, from 337 minutes to 690, from 98 rebounds to 247, from 13 blocked shots to 36 and from 127 points to 214.
Williams did not do much to distinguish himself in the earlier rounds of the playoffs, but he has taken off in the finals: 12 points on six-of-six shooting, along with nine rebounds and two blocks during Game 1; nine rebounds during Game 2 and six rebounds and two blocks during Game 3. He has played 28, 20 and 19 minutes after averaging 11 during the regular season.