He played sparingly in his rookie season, appearing in just 30 games and averaging 4.8 minutes and 1.9 points. Early in his second season, Williams asked to be sent to the then-D League. He played just three games. Williams averaged 26.0 points, 8.0 assists and 4.7 rebounds for the Fort Worth Flyers. His assignment lasted from Nov. 28-Dec. 8, 2006. He never looked back. He appeared in 61 of the Sixers’ final 70 games that season. He ended up averaging 11.3 minutes and 4.3 points per game.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Williams announced his retirement on Sunday after 17 seasons in the NBA. Seventeen. All but his final season, 2021-22 with the Hawks, Williams averaged double-figures every year after his first two. He won the NBA’s Sixth Man Award three times in his career. He leaves as the league’s all-time leading scorer as a non-starter, scoring 13,396 of his 15,593 career points off the bench.
I bring this up because early in Williams’ career I was the Pro Sports Editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. When the Sixers came to town to play the Hawks for a game in his first or second season, I sent the late, great Sekou Smith to interview Williams about his decision. Of the thousands of assignments I’ve given reporters over the years, I don’t know why that one sticks out so. I do remember Williams saying he was confident in his ability to play at the highest level and that he made the right decision.
I also covered the NBA for five of those 17 seasons, including his first of two stints with the Hawks, as the beat reporter for the AJC. I was on the beat when he signed with his hometown Hawks. I was in Brooklyn when he tore his ACL, almost directly in front of me, against the Nets in 2013. I still remember the scream. I was there when he returned almost exactly 10 months later in a home game against the Sixers. I was there when he was traded to the Raptors the following year as Hawks management didn’t see him as a fit. He won his first Sixth Man Award that year in Toronto. He’d win two more with the Clippers during his run.
I’d check in with Williams from time to time. I remember stopping by a Hawks game, after my run as beat reporter was over, for a story when he was with the Clippers on his seemingly finding a home in Los Angeles. He told me he had – as there was a Chick-fil-A across the street. I often attended his basketball camp that he held each summer at South Gwinnett High, where his No. 23 hangs on the wall and the court bears his name – LouWillVille. He would go one-on-one with each camper, giving the youth the opportunity of a lifetime to go up against an NBA player.
I watched in his final seasons - back with the Hawks - as he served as a mentor to a roster of young players.
Williams was always gracious with his time. I appreciated his honesty in answering my questions. As an aside, a well-done and moving retirement video on YouTube with his daugther as narrator.
I’m sure I was not alone in questioning whether Williams made the right decision early in his career. For those of us who did, Williams sure proved us all wrong.