Lou Williams has played in more than 1,050 career NBA games, but only has 122 starts in his career through the 2020-21 season. Yet the former second-round pick has never struggled with his backup role and, in fact, is perhaps one of the NBA’s best Sixth Men ever.
Here are 10 things to know about the Hawks standout and his time in the NBA.
Son of the South (Gwinnett): Born in Memphis and raised in Atlanta, Williams finished his high school career at South Gwinnett High School as one of Georgia’s most decorated players ever. A four-time first team All-State selection and two-time Georgia Mr. Basketball, he led SGHS to a state title as a junior and to the championship game as a senior. He finished as the second all-time leading scorer in state high school history and, in 2005, was the Naismith Award-winner and a first-team Parade All-American, Williams played in the big three high school All-Star Games (McDonald’s, Jordan Brand and Nike Hoops Summit), cementing his status as one of the nation’s top players. He was a household name in Atlanta and beyond, drawing celebrity-filled crowds to his games throughout his prep career.
Georgia on his mind: Williams and his All-State backcourt mate Mike Mercer were the centerpieces of the recruiting class that was supposed to resurrect basketball at the University of Georgia. At the time of his commitment, Williams was the highest-rated recruit in UGA history (Anthony Edwards owns that distinction now). The hype and expectations built by the commitments from Williams and Mercer, however, were only a temporary jolt. Williams rode his own wave into the 2005 draft, deciding to follow in the footsteps of local stars and friends Dwight Howard and Josh Smith, who also skipped college for the NBA draft in 2004.
Philadelphia story: Tabbed as a potential lottery pick, Williams saw his stock tumble during a series of underwhelming pre-Draft workouts. He was eventually selected by Philadelphia with the 45th pick overall and his road to NBA stardom would come the hard way — without the security of the guaranteed contract that comes with being a first-round pick. Williams played sparingly as a rookie, averaging 4.8 minutes in 30 games. But he made himself a fixture in the rotation and community in his seven seasons with the franchise (2005-12). His 14.9 ppg led the Sixers in his final season there (2011-12), impressively doing so without starting a single game. That foreshadowed the super Sixth Man role that would come to define his career. In 2011-12, he was runner-up to Oklahoma City’s James Harden for Kia Sixth Man of the Year.
The A.I. connection: The silver lining of being selected by the Sixers was Williams getting an opportunity to learn from and play with Allen Iverson. In high school, Iverson was the player pundits compared him to given their similar physical dimensions and scoring prowess. In fact, Williams broke into the playing rotation in his third season, a season after Iverson was traded to Denver. He calls Iverson a mentor, a kindred spirit, and credited him with showing him how to play fearlessly as a diminutive player. In his fifth season, Williams moved into the starting lineup, notching a career-high 38 starts. In a bit of irony, he relinquished that starting role to Iverson, who re-signed with the team during the 2009-10 season. Williams, who was sidelined with a jaw injury, never started another game during his final two seasons in Philadelphia.
Legend of Lou: Williams developed a bit of a cult following during his time with the Sixers, a fan-favorite on the court and a fixture in the community off it. His notoriety might have saved his life on Christmas Eve 2011. Williams said he was driving in a Philadelphia neighborhood he’d frequented while doing community outreach work when a man with a gun drawn walked up to his car and knocked on his window. Williams said he talked the man out of shooting him and, during the course of their conversation, the man realized who Williams was. He praised him for his play and his work in the community. Williams eventually bought the man a meal at a local McDonald’s and celebrated Christmas without a scratch.
Name in the rap game: Williams has deep ties in the hip-hop community after his having grown up with friends like Lil’ Bow Wow, Jermaine Dupri and other Atlanta-based music industry heavyweights. Williams simply calls rapping a “hobby.” But he’s also confessed to having quite a bit of material that he’s recorded but has not released. His name will live on forever in songs from hip-hop superstars Drake and Meek Mill,. He’s the subject of Drake’s hit “6 Man”, and Williams actually collaborated on the song “I Want It All” with Meek Mill (a Philadelphia native and Sixers fan). Williams also collaborated on the song “I’m On My Dip” with Gillie Da Kid and Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson.
Bouncing around: Williams spent his first seven NBA seasons establishing himself on and off the court in Philadelphia. But his odyssey around the league was just getting started. In the next seven seasons, he’d play for five more teams, starting with his hometown Atlanta Hawks. His homecoming drew big headlines in Atlanta, but the good vibrations lasted just 39 games into that first season. A torn ACL on January 18, 2013 cost him the remainder of the 2012-13 season and he came back weeks into the 2013-14 season. The Hawks traded Williams to Toronto on June 30, 2014, where he stepped into vital reserve role, avenged a then-career-high 15.5 points and won his first Kia Sixth Man of the Year Award.
L.A. story: Williams stayed on the move despite an award-winning campaign during his lone season in Toronto. He signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers in July 2015 and was a veteran scorer off the bench for a rebuilding team. When Magic Johnson took over as the Lakers’ boss, Williams was traded to Houston two days before the trade deadline in February 2017. Williams played 23 games with the Rockets to finish the season. Roughly five months later he was back in Los Angeles, only this time with the Clippers. He was a part of the blockbuster deal — along with Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer and a 2018 first-round pick from the Rockets — that sent Chris Paul to Houston. He remained with the Clippers until March of 2021, when the Hawks reacquired Williams in a trade that sent Rajon Rondo to L.A.
Sixth Man business: Williams found a perfect pairing in LA thanks to former Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who knew exactly how to use the crafty veteran scoring machine. Williams fully embraced his role as a closer/super-sub in 2017-18 and averaged a career-best 22.6 points en route to his second career Kia Sixth Man of the Year Award. He followed that up with a second straight season averaging 20 points and snagged back-to-back Kia Sixth Man of the Year Awards. Williams joins Jamal Crawford as the only players in NBA history to win Sixth Man of the Year honors three times. Williams and Montrezl Harrell formed a devastating 1-2 bench duo for the Clippers and were both finalists for the 2020 Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Lou’s legacy: Certain stars finish their careers knowing that one day they’ll be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Others have to collect their flowers while they are playing. The latter is absolutely what Williams did on what was his career milestone night. In a 140-115 win over the Boston Celtics on March 11, 2019, he surpassed Dell Curry’s record for the most points scored as a bench player (11,147). Williams lit up the Celtics for 34 points, pushing his total to 11,154. Williams is 34 and, much like Crawford, doesn’t seem to age. That makes it a safe bet that he will add plenty to his point total before his career ends.
A special moment for @TeamLou23.
Inside the locker room after the win. ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/0zpyzpnIw2
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) March 12, 2019