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Scott Howard-Cooper

Pat Williams reacts after the Magic won the first pick in the 2004 NBA Draft.
Pat Williams reacts after the Magic won the first pick in the 2004 NBA Draft.
Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images

Magic exec Williams deals with new health challenge his way


Posted Nov 23 2011 6:28PM

The dreams come an average of twice a week, sometimes vivid images of previous trips or sports or someone from the past and always as part of what has become the unfortunate routine of two hours of uninterrupted sleep before waking up with dry mouth and needing the water bottle on the nightstand.

Pat Williams goes to bed every night never knowing what new scene will break the darkness, only that the visits have become common since he started on medication and chemotherapy in early-February. (No sightings of a Magic championship yet, though.) The rest is fitful. He estimates his energy level at 80-85 percent of 2010. His new workout routine centers on a stationary bike, without the jarring activities of jogging or heavy lifting.

"The new normal," he said.

The new Pat Williams.

This one is still senior vice president of the Magic, still making about 10 speeches a month as one of the fun personalities of the NBA, and still writing books at an assembly-line pace. Only now it's with cancer.

When Williams learned in January through a routine physical that he had multiple myeloma -- cancer of bone marrow cells -- everything and nothing changed. He immediately became an outspoken advocate for sticking to a schedule of annual check-ups, hoping to especially encourage men, the stubborn gender, and any message from such a gifted speaker was sure to be delivered. But he has also mostly stuck to his previous schedule as one of the franchise's most visible faces in the community.

Williams ducks nothing with his situation, lamenting the decreased energy and describing how he was so emotionally frayed in the early days after the diagnosis that the slightest event could send him into tears. Plus, there are the regular night visitors. He has been relatively fortunate, though, in avoiding an especially bad reaction to the chemo, nothing along the lines of regular bouts of nausea or hair loss. Most importantly heading toward a scheduled major evaluation in a couple weeks, the former general manager of the Magic, 76ers and Bulls said doctors have been encouraging in their feedback.

Approximately 20,000 people a year in the United States learn they have multiple myeloma, according to the National Cancer Institute. Williams was one of those in 2011. He was unusually emotional at first, then he became the real Pat Williams, former protégé to madcap baseball marketing man Bill Veeck.

Upon learning about the disease that is treatable but not curable, Williams pounced on a catch phrase: The Mission is Remission. He had cancer ... and was turning phrases.

He got e-mails, he got phone calls, he got handshakes and hugs of support in person.

He got questions. How are you doing? What's the progress? What are the doctors saying?

He got statements. Keep us posted. We're praying for you.

"I kindly say I was overwhelmed, absolutely overwhelmed, by the outpouring," Williams said of the public response.

It came from everywhere. He heard from people from his childhood and college days at Wake Forest and from the previous life as a minor-league baseball executive in the 1960s. And of course he heard from people around the NBA.

"Normally the kind of letters and e-mails your family reads after your funeral and the person himself never sees," Williams said. "But I got to read all of that in advance of my funeral."

There is no indication one will be held soon. Drained is one thing, fading fast quite another.

Williams has decided to turn the experience into another book, No. 76 by his count, this one called "The Impact of Influence" and scheduled for release in 2012 by Revell Publishing. The support from family, friends and friends he had yet to meet became the influence that impacted his mood.

One of the first thing oncologists said after the diagnosis in January was to continue the daily routine as best as possible. So he did. Now he's a 71-year-old cancer patient who speaks and writes and tells story and finds a way to exercise, just like always.

The new Pat Williams, the old normal.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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