Lou Williams Eager For Fresh Start With Raptors
Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com
The Toronto Raptors earned a new fan during their seven-game series against the Brooklyn Nets. Two months later, unlike the thousands of other fans that series earned them, this one was traded to Toronto.
Lou Williams couldn’t be happier when he was told that the Raptors and Atlanta Hawks had worked out a trade. After seeing the thousands of people packed into Maple Leaf Square rain or shine, home or away, Williams was thrilled at the opportunity to get a fresh start playing in front of them.
“I was watching their series and dealing with ours [in Atlanta] at the time,” he said. “Strange enough, that was the only series I watched, outside of watching our own games. I don’t know. I was just rooting for those guys. For whatever reason, I was rooting for young guys going against a respected, veteran team. I was really rooting for them. It’s funny how it happened. It’s kind of surreal.”
Going into his 10th season, Williams wants to feel part of something. Joining a hardworking Raptors team has given him a renewed feeling of purpose.
“I think one of the best benefits of it is being in a position where you feel wanted,” Williams said. “When they traded for me and had the conversation, they want me here. It wasn’t a money thing. It wasn’t just something to do. They felt they had a void they needed to fill coming off the bench and I’m excited to help. I feel wanted. I feel like I have a responsibility with this basketball team and that’s the best way I can operate.”
No-nonsense and to-the-point, Williams was impressed as much by the passion shown by the Raptors front office as he was by the team’s play during that series against the Nets. Laughing as he thought back to Toronto’s Game 1 experience, he couldn’t resist sharing a moment that endeared him to his current general manager, Masai Ujiri, even if it wasn’t a popular move with the league’s head office.
“Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I was really excited about the message Masai sent out,” he said. “I was like, ‘That’s pretty dope.’ For once, someone actually spoke their mind. That was interesting to me. Someone actually said, ‘I’m concerned with our team, our organization. I want us to win, I don't care about anyone else.’ I really liked that message.”
It worked for Williams because it’s also how he operates. After tearing his ACL in January of 2013, Williams missed the rest of the season rehabbing from surgery. The time away gave him plenty of time to think. It made him evaluate what was important to him and left him needing to figure out a new approach.
Idolizing Allen Iverson his entire career, Williams spent the first eight years of his career sprinting around the court, scoring at will and using his athleticism. As he went through the grueling rehabilitation process in Atlanta, he realized he would not be returning to the court as the same person.
“It changed the entire direction of my career when I got hurt,” he said. “I had to become a smarter player. I realized I wouldn’t be as fast as I once was. I couldn’t just rely on talent. I‘d have to work harder now. I had to prepare myself in a completely different way.
“It was one of the hardest things I've ever been through. It was my first major sports injury in my life. I’ve never been injured on any level of play so sitting out a season for the first time was a very difficult and new experience for me.”
One thing that helped him weather the storm of injury and rehabilitation was the time spent with his two daughters. There is a lightness to Williams’ voice when speaking of the two little girls who are sprinkled all over his Instagram page.
Since becoming a father, Williams looked at basketball not just as his own passion, but as the thing that helps him provide for his family.
“It gives me purpose in life outside of just doing things for myself,” he said. “It gives me a responsibility. It gives me motivation to wake up every day and do my job, try to create opportunities for these small kids who don’t even know whats going on. You’re trying to put them in position to have a great future every day. They’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
A Man Of Many Talents
Self-described as a laid back family man who spends a lot of time at home, Williams is also extremely creative. When he isn’t playing basketball or enjoying time with his family, music is a big part of his life. While basketball found him around 10 years of age, Williams says that music was his first love.
“Music was a big part of my family with gatherings, picnics, barbecues,” he said. “I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. Big time blues and music city. It’s always been in my bloodline.”
The youngest of three siblings, Williams needed to be kept busy. The spirited little boy couldn’t be left to his own devices.
“Honestly, I was a troublemaker,” Williams said. “The environment I grew up in, my mom and my sister, they decided they were going to sign me up in every single thing to keep me busy. I played football, basketball, baseball. Anything, whatever was in season, I was signed up for it. Basketball was one of the things that just stuck.”
Today Williams is trying to figure out where the first nine years of his NBA career have gone. One of the last straight-from-high-school draftees, Williams was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2005. Raptors teammate Amir Johnson was also drafted that year.
Shortly after being traded to Toronto, Williams spent time with his new team in Las Vegas in July. Already familiar with Johnson, Williams also knows Kyle Lowry well as a result of spending the first seven years of his career playing in Philadelphia, Lowry’s hometown.
Acknowledging that Toronto will be a new adventure for Williams and his family, he’s been impressed by the warm welcome he has received in the months since the trade was announced.
“I’m southern, so it reminds me of home,” Williams said. “It reminds me of home how everybody treats each other. Everybody talks to each other with respect, it’s ‘Excuse me,’ ‘Hi,’ holding the door open. It’s a nice thing to know I’m going to a place like that.”
He’s also looking forward to seeing the support from the fan base when the regular season rolls around.
“My first impressions are very high,” Williams said. “The couple of times I’ve been there since I signed with the Raptors, everybody has been extremely friendly and extremely welcoming. One of my friends who was with me the last time said it feels like college. They welcome you into their town, into their culture. That’s a new experience for me. I’m really exited to get started. I’m excited to bond with the fans and the city. Hopefully we can expect something special.”