Former Bulls GM Pat Williams turns 100 (in books)

Williams was honored in 2012 by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame with the John Bunn Award.
Pat Williams inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later


Question: Can you identify who this is?

Type, type, type, type, type, type, type….extending for seven straight days. 10-second Pause. Type, type, type, type, type, type, type…again extending for seven straight days.

Answer: Pat Williams with writers' block.

"What it's meant to me was I got even with my high school English teacher, Herb Oviatt," jokes Williams, the onetime Bulls general manager and ingenious promoter who helped build the 1983 title Philadelphia 76ers and ushered in the Orlando Magic franchise. "Senior class. I was not one of his better students. Upon the night of high school graduation he said to my beloved mother, ‘I hope Pat's diploma is written in invisible ink.' My mother was not pleased. Every time I finish one of these books, I think of Mr. Oviatt and imagine the shocked look on his face."

It's apparently 100 times thinking about Mr. Oviatt as the peripatetic and indefatigable Williams has published his 100th book, "Extreme Winning: 12 keys to Unlocking the Winner Within You."

The Renaissance would have been overwhelmed by the cultural humanism of Williams, a onetime minor league baseball player who while running several NBA teams raised a family of 19, 14 of whom were adopted from overseas, ran more than 50 marathons, scaled Mt. Rainier, fought back cancer, continues to be one of the world's most prolific authors and a motivational speaker who is here this week to speak at the Chicago Bears management retreat. He'll also be at Sunday's Bulls game with the Orlando Magic, for whom he remains a senior vice president.


Of his latest effort written with Peter Kerasotis, Williams says it's the product of observation from more than 40 years in sports working with and watching the greatest to play the games.

"I began to think about these athletes, watching or observing or playing with them, studying them up close," says Williams. "I noticed the ones I most admired were not normal. They had extreme desire and fanaticism with winning, first of all. At non normal levels. I tried to observe the qualities about them and I came to the conclusion there are 12 qualities. Those to an extreme level. I wanted to get that into print. I'm pleased we have a topic I think people will be interested in.

"All 12 of those qualities are there; not like 10 or 11," says Williams, whose book is divided into a chapter on each. "Every one of these exceptional people in any field, in my observation, have all 12 of these qualities at the extreme level."

Williams writes about, among others, Michael Jordan, Walt Disney, Derek Jeter, John Wooden, Serena Williams, Julius Erving, Jerry Sloan, Moses Malone and Billy Cunningham.

"I've traced through the first 11," says Williams. "They really do not hit their pinnacle until they get the 12th nailed down, extreme teamwork. That's when they really come into our focus as special.

"We've seen it with Michael, with Kobe (Bryant), seen it with others," says Williams. "When they decide, ‘I've had enough of the individual stuff and want to win big time and the only way that will happen is if I do it collectively as part of a team and become a great teammate.'"

Pat Williams knows extreme, if anyone does given a remarkable career that was honored in 2012 by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame with the John Bunn Award. You knew there was something special about this kid who was a minor league catcher after graduating from Wake Forest. His baseball skills weren't extreme enough. But his marketing savvy was as he went into the front office and as a protégée of Bill Veeck was Minor League Executive of the Year at 27 and Bulls general manager at 29.

Basketball in Chicago after an encouraging restart with the Bulls in 1966 was in trouble again. The Bulls were averaging about 4,000 in the Chicago Stadium and in the 1968-69 season announced a home "crowd" of 891. The league office was infuriated and ordered the Bulls never to announce below 1,000. The team needed to be rebuilt from the 1966-67 expansion team that made the playoffs.

But it needed an audience first.

"When I got there it hit me we had to do whatever it took to get people in that building," said Williams. "You put 4,000 or less in that big barn and it was a nightmare.

Everything we did promotionally (in the minor leagues) in South Carolina with the Phillies' minor league club we rolled it into Chicago. And darned if we didn't have a very interesting ball club with Bob Love, Jerry Sloan, Tom Boerwinkle and feisty Dick Motta. We traded for Norm Van Lier and suddenly we had a club winning 50 games and it was an attraction in itself and with the promotional stuff we had the engines running.

"We got into the playoffs, had a team beginning to capture the fancy of Chicago and overcoming the biggest hurdle that Chicago was not a basketball town," recalled Williams. "'There's no interest here' was what you heard, that it will never work because it never has worked. That was the huge hurdle."

1972-73 - Pat Williams - Benny the Bull

So it was Williams who invented Benny the Bull, the first NBA mascot. He created the first NBA sideline cheerleaders and discovered Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim Durham and brought him to Chicago He produced the first live bear wrestling match at halftime.

"I thought with a mascot, ‘Let's try it,'" Williams says with a fond laugh. "We created the red suit, named him for (p.r. director) Ben Bentley (Bentley would later wrestle the docile bear). Now we had to get a guy into the costume. There was this guy, Landey Patton, I'd met, a real estate guy. He said, ‘If there's ever anything I can do to help you….' I said I'd let him know.

"He called one day of a season ticket holders' luncheon," said Williams. "We didn't have many. I said, ‘Landey, I need you to get in a costume and run around the (luncheon) room.' And he did. We opened on a Friday against the Knicks. I said, ‘Do me one favor. I need you to run around the arena and be Benny the Bull.' He did and he kept that suit on three years. He still lives in Virginia and I hear from him every now and then."

Williams literally announced the trade for Chet Walker as he arrived to take the GM job. It had been discussed, but 76ers general manager Jack Ramsay couldn't finalize a deal for Jim Washington with the dysfunctional Chicago management. Williams was Ramsay's assistant and told Williams he'd release him from his contract if he completed the deal when he got to Chicago. It would be a blessing for the Bulls as Walker went on to be a multiple All-Star with the Bulls and Hall of Famer.

"Probably my crucial move was not trading Bob Love," Williams says. "Bob then was expendable and just there, another journeyman. Love came the year before for Flynn Robinson. Dick didn't like Flynn and he goes

to (then GM and original managing partner) Dick Klein and says, ‘If Flynn is at the gym tonight, you're going to have to get another coach.' He was quitting. He didn't care who they got. Eddie Doucette in Milwaukee called Flynn the Electric Eye; great name. So they send Flynn for Bobby Weiss and Bob Love. Love gets into an auto accident when he arrives and the rest of the year is wasted (averaging 5.1 points). It's now the fall of '69. Bob is sitting there and nobody knows quite what to do with him or what he is. We'd traded Bob Boozer for Bob Kauffman. We had to put in more because of the age factor (with Boozer). Lenny Wilkens insists on Barry Clemens. I remember saying, ‘How about this guy Love?'

Lenny says, ‘Nah, no interest; it's got to be Clemens.'

"Kauffman opening night against the Knicks isn't very good," recalls Williams with a photographic memory of NBA history. "The next night against Seattle he struggles. Bob comes off the bench and has a big game and the rest is history. From Game 3 on it was Bob Love every night for seven or eight years. He became a perennial All Star and one of the league's elite forwards on both ends of the floor.

1973-74 - Chet Walker w Bob Love

"Probably my most vivid memory still is the playoffs of '73, Game 7 in Los Angeles," says Williams. "We outplayed them the entire game and are about to move to the next round, which would have been an enormous breakthrough for basketball in Chicago (beating the defending champions after their 69-win season). Two minutes left and we're up about eight and here comes Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and they couldn't miss. We can't score and Wilt blocks a shot and it gets away and we lose. To this day decades later I still suffer over that loss with what could have happened. The city was really into it."

That also was, as Williams knew, his end as well.

Motta had driven out Klein and now had his sights on Williams. Motta already had run out personnel guy Jerry Krause and megalomaniac Motta wanted all the power for himself. He was still trying to get rid of Boerwinkle as well in Chicago's first basketball lesson in hubris.

Williams did a fun book a few years ago having famous NBA experts pick their top 10 lists. Former Bulls player Matt Guokas and longtime NBA coach listed his 10 best passers in NBA history at any position and had Boerwinkle second to Magic Johnson. Ahead of John Stockton, Steve Nash and Bob Cousy, the latter whom Guokas played against. Former player Tom Tolbert listed Boerwinkle the No. 1 passing big man in NBA history in his list.

"He made Motta's offense run," said Williams. "But Dick couldn't wait to get Nate Thurmond, who couldn't pass and didn't know how and didn't fit. Clifford Ray wasn't a bad passer and Dick couldn't wait to get Cliff out of there. When I left I told Lester Crown, ‘You're making a bad mistake when you put all the power into the hands of one guy who is also the coach; Dick proved it."

It brought Williams back to one of the great NBA stories; it was Motta's pursuit of Howard Porter in the 1971 draft. Porter was a super athlete who in one of the great NCAA tournaments took Villanova to the title game against UCLA. Howard was named Most Outstanding Player. But it also was the height of the NBA financial battles with the rival ABA for players with secret, illegal contracts common.

"Dick had gone to Philadelphia to the Palestra and saw Howard Porter and Villanova that season," Williams recalls in an era with little scouting. "Howard was spectacular. Dick comes back and says he's the third best forward he's ever seen in college. I said, ‘Dick. who were the two others?' He said, ‘Gus Johnson and Elgin Baylor.' Krause had not turned in a very positive report. Now comes the NCAA finals and Howard continues his strong play and almost upsets UCLA. He'd signed with the ABA. So he drifts to the second round and we have a couple of extra seconds and we take him. We end up signing a big deal. Walter Kennedy, the commissioner, says to (partner) Elmer Rich, I think, ‘Elmer, I'm so pleased you finally have your superstar.' It's the first day of practice out at Wheaton. Morning session over. It's lunch and Dick comes up to me and says, ‘Howard Porter can't play.' I say, ‘What do you mean?'

"Dick's yelling, ‘You saw it! He can't dribble it once! Couldn't pass from me to you! Can't guard anybody!'

Said all he does is run and jump and shoot; can't play basketball. We'd just spent the highest contract ever and after one workout Dick says he can't play," Williams remembers. "He was the ultimate journeyman. Never did learn to pass or dribble."

It brought back more memories for Williams of one of the NBA's most infamous stories after he'd left the Bulls and returned to the 76ers.

"I'm now in Philly with George (McGinnis) and we want Bobby Jones," Williams recalls with a laugh.

Larry Brown, then Denver Nuggets coach, had been pestering GM Carl Sheer for months to get McGinnis, that the team had no chance without him. The deal is finally made.

"George takes a break during morning workout to smoke a cigarette," laughs Williams. "Larry goes to Carl Sheer and says, ‘Get him out of here.' So he trades him to Indiana for Alex English, who was mired in Milwaukee and in Indiana is a kind of journeyman. He goes to Denver and the Hall of Fame and George was finished."

Pat Williams is not. He just finished his first 100 in a lifetime of extreme winning.

1973-74 - Misc - Bulls Vendor

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