Posted Mar 8 2012 11:00AM
ORLANDO -- Pat Williams removes the black brimmed hat, something that appears to be from the Indiana Jones Collection, with a bit of Tyrolean mixed in, and reveals the remaining wisps of white hair along his head at ear level.
It is Friday of All-Star weekend. More importantly, it is 13 months since Williams, the Magic's senior vice president, was diagnosed with cancer of the bone marrow cells and exactly two weeks since stem-cell surgery. He had only been released from the hospital a few days earlier.
"I got out of the hospital Tuesday morning at 6:30 a.m.," Williams explains. "[The doctor] let me out. I made a speech that morning to a Boy Scout group. And that afternoon, Tuesday, the phone rings. It's Jerry Colangelo saying, 'I'm calling to break the news to you. Here's what's happened.'"
The Hall of Fame was on the line, with great news and even better timing.
Colangelo, the chairman of the basketball museum, called to say Williams had been chosen to receive the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor from the Hall short of enshrinement. Williams will be saluted in September in Springfield, Mass., as part of the induction ceremonies for the Class of 2012.
This couldn't have worked out much better. Within the last few weeks, the father of 19, 14 of whom are adopted from foreign countries, learned he would become a grandparent three more times, with twins for one of his kids and a single to another. That family boost and the feedback from doctors that the stem-cell treatment had produced encouraging early results preceded the Colangelo call.
"The timing's unbelievable," Williams said. "To be diagnosed 13 months ago and get out of the hospital after the final thing they could do and the All-Star weekend descends and the Hall of Fame elects to award me with this? Yeah. I don't think you could time it out any better. Absolutely to the day (of getting out of the hospital)."
Plus, the news was announced in Orlando. Williams is from everywhere -- born in Philadelphia, raised in Wilmington, Del., an undergrad at Wake Forest on a baseball scholarship, a graduate student at Indiana, a minor-league catcher in Miami, a minor-league executive there and in Spartanburg, S.C., general manager of the Bulls, Hawks and 76ers, and a member of Orlando's front office. He has become engrained in Central Florida, his residence since 1986, initially as head of basketball operations. Later, he's been recognized for his work in the community that includes giving about 10 speeches a month.
"To have it in your hometown, the timing, to do it in 2012, that doubled the magnitude of it for me," he said.
Williams, at 71, says he feels "very good" and that doctors offer an encouraging prognosis for living with multiple myeloma, a disease that strikes approximately 20,000 people a year, according to the National Cancer Institute. He coined a catch phrase for the planned recovery: "The Mission is Remission."
When the health news went public, the gregarious Williams got countless cards, e-mails and phone calls, from friends who hadn't been in contact in decades to friends from around the league to friends he hadn't met yet. It was the kind of words people say at your funeral, he called them.
There were long stretches of nights with little more than two hours of sleep at a time, waking with dry mouth after a restless night punctuated by vivid dreams.
But, he reports, "The transplant is working. It seems to be hitting home. The old cells are out, the dead ones are gone through chemo, and 4.9 million new stem cells from my body go back into my body. Modern medicine. Wow."
He sounds like a man with a lot to celebrate. Grandchildren on the way, the Hall of Fame, improving health. It's a good time and place for Pat Williams.
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