Nets in the 80s: Buck Williams and Albert King Teamed Up from Maryland to New Jersey

The first thing Albert King remembers about Buck Williams is the car. He calls it the “Starsky and Hutch” car and it carried the University of Maryland’s new freshman forward from rural North Carolina to College Park.

“It was a 1972 Chevelle,” said Williams. “It had these chrome wheels and the tires and wheels were offset, wide wheels on the back offset and two stripes on the hood on the front.”

King had made a similarly flashy impression on Williams, in a bit of a different way. On his recruiting visit the previous fall, Williams watched the Terrapins practice and had his eyes opened wide by the freshman King, who had become a national sensation as a prep player at Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton HS, where older brother Bernard starred as well before going on to Tennessee and then playing his first two NBA seasons with the Nets.

“I’m from Rocky Mount, North Carolina and we played some good ball there, but it was a different brand of ball,” said Williams. “Not as much flair as the kids in the city. I see this frail, skinny guy about 6-6 and his talent right away gets me fixated on him because I hadn’t seen guys doing the stuff he was doing. He was jackknifing and there was a serious flair to the way he played. I just couldn’t stop watching him. I went in and said the thought of playing with this guy here would be incredible.”

Williams got what he wished for, and more, in a partnership that stretched beyond their time at Maryland and carried over into six seasons together with the Nets in New Jersey. Over that time, their status would flip. King, the high school prodigy and 1980 ACC Player of the Year, was drafted 10th overall by the Nets in 1981 and had a solid NBA career. Williams was taken third the same year, leaving Maryland after his junior season, and was named Rookie of the Year, All-NBA Second Team the next season, and played in three All-Star Games.

It was a heady time for Williams, who didn’t start playing basketball until he reached high school. But what stayed the same was his relationship with King, who was even the best man at Williams’ wedding midway through their time together with the Nets.

“Six or seven years removed from junior high I’m in the pros six, seven years later,” said Williams. “My career came really fast. I was a sleeper. Everybody knew Albert King, but I was a sleeper when I started playing ball at the University at Maryland. The ride was really accelerated for me. I was Rookie of the Year and played in the All-Star Game with Dr. J and Larry Bird and all these guys, so I was on kind of a meteoric rise. The one thing that was consistent was Albert. He gave me support in my career and personally he was a brother to me through all this.”

It was a unique scenario that brought the college teammates together to New Jersey. For the second year in a row, the Nets had two draft picks in the top 10. Mark Aguirre and Isiah Thomas went ahead of Williams. Then they brought King home to start his NBA career.

“You’re right across the river from your hometown,” said King. “Everybody could see you play. It was a dream come true. Hearing your name called by the New Jersey Nets, that’s something that was very special.”

Mike O’Koren, drafted sixth overall by the Nets a year earlier, played against the pair in college while at North Carolina.

“I have to be honest, I never realized Buck Williams would be as good as he was,” said O’Koren. “He was a solid player, a rebounder, tough guy, but he really turned into a tremendous NBA player, All-Star caliber player. Worked on his offense. He could score in there. He was a tenacious defender. As another forward, he made your job easier because he took up a lot of attention and the defense had to play to him. He’s a player that makes others better. That’s a true star, and Buck was.

“Albert, he was more my guard in college. First of all, he’s a tremendous person, tremendous teammate, as was Buck. Albert could do it all. He could get up the floor, shoot, pretty good defender. Knock it down from anywhere. Good at getting to the line and making circus-type plays. He really had that ability.”

In their rookie season, the Nets made a 20-win jump and reached the playoffs for the first of five consecutive seasons. Williams played eight seasons for the Nets and remains the franchise leader in games and rebounds. He’s second in points, with Brook Lopez eclipsing his franchise record by four points at the end of the 2015-16 season.

With the Nets, Williams averaged 16.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per game while shooting 55 percent. In his first six seasons, he missed just one game, starting every one he played.

“I think when you look at anything in terms of performance, the most important thing to me is consistency,” said Williams. “It could be one percent, two percent, but you know you’re guaranteed a certain performance level. That was my whole premise going into the games; I want to be consistent. So coach could say, Buck is going to give me 15 points and 10 rebounds and I can pencil that in. I grew up in a family with a good work ethic. And work ethic is what rebounding is. You don’t take a play off. Every time the ball hits the rim, you’re going. That’s what I really wanted, to pride myself in being a consistent player.”

Named to the All-Defensive Second Team for the first time in 1987-88, Williams earned two All-Defensive First Team honors and another Second Team selection after being traded to the Portland Trail Blazers following the 1988-89 season. He went to the NBA Finals twice with Portland and played nine more seasons following his trade from the Nets, retiring after the 1997-98 season.

“When I first retired, I played a lot of golf, did a lot of traveling and read a lot of books,” said Williams, who lives in Maryland these days. “And then I had an idea for a technology firm that I started with three other partners. We did that for three years and then I sold that. Then I started a construction and building supply company. I sold that to my partner and now I’m in commercial real estate investing. I can’t stay home. I just enjoy working.”

King averaged career highs of 17.0 points and 5.8 rebounds while starting 75 games in his second season in 1982-83, helping the Nets to 49 wins, their highest NBA win total until the 2001-02 team won 52 games.

He played for the Nets through the 1987-88 season, then spent a year with San Antonio before playing abroad for two seasons. He played a handful of games for Washington in 1991-92 before wrapping up his career.

A few years after retiring, looking for something to do, King inquired with a neighbor who was a Wendy’s franchisee. He spent a few months working in the restaurant for no salary to learn the business and went to Wendy’s university to learn more, eventually investing in franchises and then going out on his own. He’s getting ready to open his fourth restaurant in which he is the sole owner in Newark.

“I have really enjoyed the business,” said King. “I can really say I love the business. I put it on par with my basketball experience, I enjoy it that much. I’m not a large franchisee. I’m hands on, not in the office all the time, though not in the store as much as I used to. When I started I was on the line as much as I could. When people came in they were shocked to see me on the line; ‘what’s Albert King doing serving fries?’ I never told them I was the owner or the manager. It gives you a sense of organization. It’s a team. You’re the head coach. You have different people underneath you working together. It’s been a good business experience, and fortunately, it’s been a good business.”