Flashback Friday — Jason Williams
Every Friday, we’ll hear from myself or you the readers about their fondest memories of players, games or moments in Sacramento Kings basketball history. We’ll post them here and allow everybody to share their opinions on those particular topics. You can email ideas and suggestions at zharper[at]cowbellkingdom[dot]com.
I remember it well.
I was hanging out with my friend Andy, whose dad was a season ticket-holder for the Kings, and he asked me if I wanted to check out this videotape. It was something most people would never see. It was before most of this kind of stuff was featured on various sites over the internet.
We popped in the tape, took our seats on the couch, and marveled at what we saw on the screen. It was an overload of awe and amazement that flooded our senses. We were saturated with things we had never really seen before. There was spectacular action on the screen. We wanted more of it. We had felt sheltered from what we could have been experiencing and enjoying.
The tape was a video of some incoming talent that the Sacramento Kings had just drafted in the summer of 1998 and 1996 as well. It was a video showcasing the college/high school exploits of Jason Williams and the international threes that Peja Stojakovic had been raining as a youngster. It showed behind the back passes, 30-foot launches, and incredible court vision from a skinny white guy that looked more like us than an actual NBA player. It showed Peja Stojakovic shooting the ball at the hoop with the effortless motion and consistency like Larry Bird in a three-point shooting contest. It was a video to entice Kings fans to keep their season tickets or upgrade to better seats. And if I had possessed season tickets at the time, I would have mortgaged any family member to upgrade even one row. The seed had been planted.
We all wanted to see more of Jason Williams. Those of us who were lucky enough to know how creative he was at such a young age were delighted to get a glimpse into the next season. He was an enigma enclosed in a cryptex guarded by the Riddler. We hadn’t really experienced a white player respected and revered across so many races since Larry Bird or Mark Eaton.
When the regular season was finally allowed to start due to the lockout, basketball fans were teased with a brief taste of 50 regular season games to go with five grueling games against the defending Western Conference champs in the first round of the playoffs that became a statement of “Jason Williams is in this league and the Sacramento Kings are officially a problem.” The league and SportsCenter were lit up with highlights of Jason Williams, discussion, and memorabilia flying off the shelves. The Kings were dead in the sights of the national spotlight and didn’t squint from the bright attention one bit.
Part of that had to do with the infusion of talent from a successful Geoff Petrie off-season in 1998. He made a timely and bold trade to bring in the maligned Chris Webber for Sacramento favorite Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe. He convinced Vlade Divac to join the team with a big contract and brought in Rick Adelman to coach the team. But in my opinion, nothing galvanized the organization like Jason Williams, his style of play, and Rick Adelman’s willingness to live with the ups and downs of a highlight reel-producing rookie point guard with an affinity for making the spectacular play. Not to mention the fact that bringing Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, and Jason Williams together to run a Princeton offense with making the extra pass was like having George Harrison, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney come together in a studio and asking them to just have fun on the instruments.
I had seen all of the highlights and read all of the stories about Jason Williams during his rookie season. I had watched plenty of games on TV and heard from friends about how cool it was to see him in person. But I didn’t get to experience it for myself until April 23, 1999. The Kings were 20-22 and hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves (22-21). I was decked out in whatever Wolves gear I could find in my closet and boasting about how great Kevin Garnett and Terrell Brandon were as the Wolves jumped out to a big lead early. I was heckling my friend who I attended the game with and being loud enough for the surrounding Kings fans in section 220 to hear.
The Kings fought back in the second quarter to cut the lead to two at halftime but the Wolves had complete control of the game. They were hungrier, more physical, and trying to intimidate the hometown team. And then the third quarter started and Jason Williams decided to put on a show. Not only did he put on a show but also he took every bit of trash talking I had done and made me eat every single word and syllable like I was in the movie Se7en and being forced to experience gluttony.
Jason went off for 19 points in the quarter, including five three-pointers. He pulled up on fast breaks for three-point shots that were deep enough to win him a Toyota truck and making them as if they were lay-ups. He destroyed Terrell Brandon on every possession. He broke the will and the feistiness of the Wolves. He broke my will. He caused everyone in section 220 to start cheering louder to make me pay for every dumb statement of grandeur that I had uttered.
He wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary for him either. Because nothing was out of the ordinary when it came to Jason Williams’ play. Jason was an icon of improvisation. He was a circus act. He was a magician that was sawing the Minnesota roster in half and never caring to put them back together. And this was just him. This was what he knew how to do.
The great thing about the Jason Williams era in Sacramento was that it was fun, hopeful, and never disappointing. Sure, the Kings never won a title with him and traded him for Mike Bibby in order to become a much more serious contender but it didn’t discount anything that he had done in his three seasons with the Kings. He was flash and flare like Little Brother used to rap about. He was pomp and circumstance with an infusion of youth and exuberance to accompany it. He was fun. He was exciting. He was Sacramento Kings basketball as they put themselves in the forefront of the NBA.
He was elbow-passes and three-point bombs. He was between the legs, around the back, across his body, looking away, and screaming in a manner after his highlights that seemed to infer that he was even impressed with himself. He was every #55 jersey around Sacramento and throughout the country. He was a big part of the reason Chris Webber smiled, Rick Adelman shook his head in disbelief, and Tariq Abdul-Wahad throwing down passes from 70-feet away. He was the undressing of Gary Payton, Brian Grant and Detlef Schrempf. He was the passion and exultation of dunking on Mario Elie and causing jealousy throughout point guards in the NBA like Stephon Marbury. He was “WHITEBOY” tattooed across his knuckles and a bevy of And 1 shoes sold throughout the country.
He was the birth of Kings Basketball, long after it had already been here.
And it all started with a videotape, some anticipation, and excitement.
Audio in video NSFW
Jason Williams photo used from http://nbaflash.free.fr