A Look Back At The 1999 Championship From The End Of The Bench
Williams, a 6-6 guard out of Davidson College, was signed by the Spurs just days before the 1999 lockout-shortened season got underway. Although he played sparingly, logging just four minutes in three regular-season games, and did not see any action during the playoffs, Williams was still one of 14 players that helped the Spurs capture their first NBA title.
“It was a great year and definitely a learning experience,” Williams recalled from his office at NBA Headquarters in New York. “My role on the team was pretty much to be the guy to keep the energy level up all the time. Pop and I had a great conversation in training camp and he told me that he put this team together to make a run at the championship and I told him that I could play a part in that.”
Williams joined the Spurs as a 23-year-old shooting guard with a résumé that included just nine NBA games along with stops in Europe and the CBA. On a team built around seasoned veterans with eight guys having played nine-plus seasons in the NBA, Williams was asked to bring youth and energy during practices to help the Spurs prepare for the younger stars the team would face during their playoff run.
“These guys needed to be prepared because they were going to have to play some young stars like Kobe (Bryant), Latrell Sprewell, Allen Houston and Bonzi Wells; guys at the two position that were athletic,” Williams said. “It was my job to go nuts sometimes. During the playoffs in particular, I would get the green light to act as much like Kobe or Sprewell or whoever it was as I could be.”
Despite being one of the last guys off the bench Williams kept himself prepared at all times and helped his teammates by being available any time of the day even when practices weren’t scheduled.
“If Pop gave the team day off, I knew that Steve Kerr or Jaren Jackson might not take the day off because they didn’t play a lot of minutes,” Williams said. “I looked at the way they prepared themselves and they had to go into the gym and get their competition. They had to keep their conditioning. If those guys were going to be in the gym, I was definitely going to be in the gym. I couldn’t let those guys show up to an empty gym.”
Williams has great memories from the Championship run. One of the season’s funnier moments for him is when the team was returning from a road trip and some of the guys realized that he was wearing a short-sleeve button-up shirt with a tie under his sports coat.
“You know NBA guys like to dress sharp,” Williams said. “I hadn’t been on the team very long and hadn’t gotten the chance to go out and revamp my wardrobe. We got on the plane and I took my jacket and tie off and Jaren (Jackson) said “What is that? I haven’t seen a short sleeve dress shirt since Catholic school.” Everybody just started going off on me and coming up with their best one-liners about my shirt. It was so bad that I actually took the shirt off and threw it away on the plane. The guys just wouldn’t let it go so I went and sat in back of the plane with the support staff.”
It’s memories like that plane ride that defy many people’s perception of Spurs teams as old, boring and stiff. “To know that is not true, I just get a kick out if it,” Williams said.
Of course, no memory tops the championship itself, even though looking back Williams wished the Spurs could have won the Championship on their home court.
“I wish we could have won it at the Alamodome because the experience in the Dome with Spurs fans was a lot of different than in other arenas,” Williams said. “I knew how badly San Antonians wanted it. You could see how proud people were at the parade.”
Following the season Williams left the Spurs and continued his professional career playing in Europe and in several semi-pro leagues in the U.S. He later had opportunities in the NBA with the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons but never caught on with one team.
“The experience of being part of that Championship team gave me confidence,” Williams said. “I was always chasing a dream that other people felt wouldn’t happen. Maybe there was some vindication in winning the championship, because not only did I make it, I was at least for some portion of time a part of one of the best teams in the world.”
Today, Williams works for the NBA as the Director of Basketball Operations. In his role he oversees all on-court operations, including officiating, game conduct and discipline, competition, as well as in-game operations issues. As part of William’s job he spends a lot of time on the road throughout the season which enables him to catch up with some of his former teammates.
“Being in the business I see the guys pretty often,” Williams said. “I run into Will (Purdue) quite a bit. I’ve seen Avery (Johnson) over the years. I run into David (Robinson) at the big events. I deal with Steve (Kerr) quite a bit doing what I do. Malik is still around playing so I will occasionally bump into him. The business keeps us in the circle.”
When Williams needs a break from basketball, he’s usually working on a home improvement project or watching the Do it Yourself Network. In fact, Williams was featured on one of the network’s shows. Man Caves.
“These guys (show producers) reached out to me to be on the show so I did it,” Williams recalled. “On the show they take a space in your house and they make it a dedicated “man cave.” A lot of guys like to theme the room. Me being an NBA guy, they themed it basketball. One of the cool features they did for me is they installed an accessible safe behind my Spurs jersey for my ring. When the guys come over they like looking through all the memorabilia and I can open it for them to take a look.”
Williams may have only played in three games for the Spurs during that magical run to their first NBA Championship, but he will always be able to do something many NBA players can only dream of: sit back in his man cave and reminisce of all the great memories and friendships while his championship ring rests safely behind a Spurs jersey that saw just four minutes of action.