Williams acquired a tattoo two summers ago, a pit bull next to the nipple on the left side of his chest. "No significance," says the man with the NBA's most famous heart. Still, the metaphorical significance is inescapable.
Williams is in his house, autumn sunlight streaming through the windows onto the varnished floors. He's stroking the neck of his 17-month-old rottweiler, G.Q. He remembers how he was touring Europe with a junior team in the summer of 1993 when Reggie Lewis fell dead and how a reporter called him, wondering if he wished to talk about it. "Talk about it?" he said. "The man is dead. What about his family?" He remembers last January when he hung 34 points on Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and-how writers flooded into the dressing room after the game and asked him about his heart condition. He was crestfallen that the subject had been raised again. "Can I please play basketball and just get recognition for my talent?" he asks, searching the ceiling for an answer.
But as long as the world remembers Lewis and Gathers, Williams will never be just a small forward or an X on a chalkboard. He knows it best of all. "Death," says Williams, "is something that's going to be with me until I grow very old."