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Rip City Magazine Rewind: Volume 1 Issue 3

Hard work. Goggles. Defense. Rebound. Hustle. Tenacious. The missing piece. Each and every one of these words or phrases is what comes immediately to mind when one thinks back to Buck Williams and his playing days in Portland. And that is where the next chapter of our Rip City Magazine Rewind series takes us to.

In only seven seasons with the Trail Blazers, Buck Williams' name can be found frequenting the Trail Blazers' Top 10 lists: first in field-goal percentage (.550), third in consecutive games played (196), ninth in minutes played (17,130). But where he did most of his damage was on the glass. During his playing career, they weren't the backboards, they were the Buck-boards, because he owned the glass. Williams ranks third all-time in Trail Blazers franchise history in both offensive and defensive rebounds (1,694 and 3,167 respectively) and fourth all-time in total rebounds (4,861).

While Portland never reached the ultimate glory of holding up the Larry O'Brien trophy, Buck certainly was the missing piece in bringing BlazerMania back to the Rose City as well as staking Portland's claim of being Best in the West in both 1990 and 1992. During that incredible three-year stretch (89-92), Williams played in 242 of a possible 246 regular season games while leading the Blazers in rebounding and field-goal percentage each year, even leading the NBA in shooting accuracy in both '91 and 92 (.602 and .604 respectfully).

With that said, here is Bill Needles article, entitled "Ten Thousand Rebounds", where Buck discusses the origins of his work ethic, how he spends his free time away from basketball and what it felt like to be dubbed "the missing piece" when he first arrived in the summer of 1989.

Buck Williams Makes His Mark...
One Rebound At A Time

Some guys have it easy. Terry Porter scores points by threes from afar. Clyde Drexler registers bushels of baskets at two points a shot.

Buck Williams, however, makes his contribution one rebound at a time.

How fitting. In a perfect match of personality to profession, Williams applies his tenacious, hard-working nature to rebounding and defense - two areas of the game in which tenacity and hard work are most important.

And when Buck Williams bumped and thumped and clawed and fought and eventually captured his 169th rebound this season, he became one of just 18 players (depending on what Bill Laimbeer did before him) to amass 10,000 points and 10,000 rebounds in an NBA career.

The 10K-10K group is among the NBA's most exclusive clubs for well-rounded performers. Many, like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, Elvin Hayes, Bob Pettit and Nate Thurmond, are members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Others in the 10K-10K Club, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Parish, will be as soon as they are eligible. Perhaps there will be a spot for Williams in the Springfield shrine once his playing days are done as well.

"It's just magnificent to be thought of in the same breath as those players," Williams says. "I really hadn't given it one moment's thought, though. When I started out in the league, I just wanted to progress from year to year. I'm surprised I've achieved a milestone like this."

Maybe Williams is surprised by the milestone, but those who have watched his career since 1981, when he entered the league as an undergraduate-eligible from Maryland, aren't.

Chosen by the Nets with the third pick overall, Williams averaged more than 1,000 rebound a year for his first six seasons in the NBA; seasons in which he missed just one regular season game of a possible 492. He was named Rookie-of-the-Year in 1982 and appeared in the All-Star Game in his first two campaigns.

"Buck was tough from the start," says former Hawks All-Star Dan Roundfield, regarded as the league's top power forward when Williams' career began. "He didn't back down and played hard every minute. You knew he'd be a good one."

Today, the report on Williams is the same. "Buck isn't the biggest guy out there," says Jerome Kersey, "but he makes his man work for everything."

"Over a period of time he wears you down. He never steps back to give you anything easy. He makes you work all the time."

It's too simple to say Buck Williams has achieved NBA stardom just because he worked hard for it. He's a talented athlete, blessed with quick reactions, good timing, rawboned strength and an instinctive sense for the ball.

Many NBA players have had Williams' natural ability, but few have accomplished what he has. Williams' desire and work habits set his apart. And to understand the development of his inner game of basketball, one must know about his upbringing.

"My work ethic comes from my parents," he says. "They worked as hard as they could in whatever they did. I took that attitude and applied it to playing basketball."

Williams says he's had a lot of motivation to play hard. "I've always wanted to be the best. After generations of sharecropping in my family, I saw basketball as a way to escape all that and to make a better life for myself and my family," he says.

"I continue to play with the desire I have because now I have a wife and two sons, and doing it for them is what pushes me."

Actually, Williams applies his tenacious attitude to everything he attempts, not just basketball. His non-basketball interests include playing the piano, building radio-controlled model airplanes and someday learning to fly real planes. He pursues each with the same drive he has going after missed shots.

"My wife says I can't do anything half-speed. I have to do things to one extreme or the other," he says. "If I get started doing something, I have to finish it and finish it well."

Williams' most impressive off-court accomplishment reflects the tenacity he displays on the floor. He has complied a genealogy that traces his family into the late 1700's.

Poring over historical records and documents doesn't seem like a typical hobby for a well-paid NBA power forward.

One can imagine Williams applying the same methods to finding a branch of his family tree that he applies to rebounding. Neither is a glorious task. The path to the answer or the rebound isn't always clear and a dray spell can often make one wonder if the rewards are worth the effort. But with his genealogy, as well as with his basketball, perseverance helped Williams succeed.

"There's no question there was a similarity," he says. "It took the same kind of work ethic to do them both and that foes back to my parents. It doesn't matter what the task is - building model airplanes, working on my computer, tracing my family, rebounding - these traits were instilled in me a long time ago by my parents."

Williams grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, the youngest of six children of Moses and Betty Williams. His father was a construction worker, and later a cement finisher, who built the four-room Williams home. His mother would often take her youngest son into the fields while she picked cotton.

"I had two of the hardest-working parents in the world," he says. "My father used to tell me you can't be afraid of hard work. I never forgot that advice. We lived in poverty and it didn't take indoor plumbing and a lot of money (two things we didn't have) to show me what to value most in life.

"In order to be a success at whatever profession you choose, you have to work hard at it. That's been the difference between me and some of the other players - I'm not afraid of hard work."

Which is good, because no place in pro sports requires more hard work than the NBA paint. For more than a decade, Williams has been trading hips, shoves and elbows with power forwards who have been occasionally defined as NFL linemen. - only meaner.

"Maurice Lucas was a great one," Williams says of one of his early opponents. "And Karl Malone has really taken the position to another level because he's got a lot of offense, and he'll often get the ball every time down the floor.. Karl can shoot the 15-foot jump shot which is different from the power forwards when I started out. Most of them would do their scoring from the inside only."

Williams doesn't score as much with the Trail Blazers as he used to with the Nets, simply because he doesn't have to. With a high-powered Portland offense, Williams is rarely asked to carry much of the scoring load.

"With guys like we have on this team, it's not so important that I score," he says. "Guys like Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter are very capable of scoring a lot more than me. But before people think I've always been just a rebounder and defender, they should remember that when I was with New Jersey, I scored because that was part of my role.

"I've always tried to set myself apart from the rest of the players at my position. And at the time in New Jersey, that meant being a scoring threat, as well as a good rebounder."

In eight seasons with the Nets, Williams averaged 16.4 points per game, never scoring less than 13 per outing, while averaging as many as 18.3 per contest in his best Nets campaign.

With Portland, thanks to the presence of many more offensive weapons than there were in New Jersey, Williams has averaged 12.2 points per night. But one part of Williams' offense has remained consistent since his first year in the NBA - his field goal accuracy. He's been the league's leading field goal percentage shooter for the last two seasons.

In fact,only eight players in the NBA history have shot the ball more accurately than Buck Williams. Only one of them, Phoenix's 6'6" Charles Barkley, is shorter than the 6'8" Williams. The rest had have the advantage of being roughly seven-feet tall. As befits a man whose frugality is legendary ("I think Buck calculates the sales tax on a meal," says Drexler), Williams has always been able to get the maximum production from a minimum number of shots.

Although he appears on the NBA's list of all-time leaders in field goal percentage and on its list of active leaders in minutes played, rebounds and, not surprisingly, fouls committed, Williams' most frequent individual glory has come as a defender.

1982 Rookie-of-the-Year, three All-Star Game appearances and a second team all-NBA selection in 1983 are the sum of Williams' honors in the more publicized of the league's awards. But in the area coaches value the most - defense - Williams has been a regular award-winner throughout his career.

Williams has been named to the league's all-defensive team in each of his three seasons with the Trail Blazers and also appeared on the top defender squad as a Net. Williams' toughness is said to be the quality that vaulted the Trail Blazers from four straight first-round playoff losses, into the NBA Finals in 1990.

"I was comfortable when they said I was the missing piece in Portland," Williams says. " I knew they had a lot of talented players, but if they needed somebody to rebound the basketball and provide them with some of the intangibles and direction they needed to advance in the playoffs, I wanted the responsibility of being the missing piece.

"Also, it gave me a chance to feel appreciated by the team I was playing for. That's something I had always wanted. To feel appreciated," says Williams.

One gets the feeling he is quite well appreciated these days, as much for who he is, as for what he does in a basketball uniform. He's been able to take an inbred tenacity for doing a job thoroughly and correctly, and transfer it into a productive and lucrative career as one of the best power forwards in NBA history.

"That's how I live my life," he says. "I dig my nails into it. I don't let go. I grab onto thing."

Like the 10,000th rebound that made him a member of the NBA's elite.

Photo Gallery: Buck Williams Through The Years

Previous Stories: Volume 1 Issue 1 - Clyde's Golden Year | Volume 1 Issue 2 - Q & A With Cliff Robinson
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