Brian's father is Gene Williams, a former member of the Platters, and Gene's father, Calhoun Williams, played piano with Duke Ellington. Brian, who grew up in Fresno, Calif., was only a year old when his parents divorced, but there was never any denying his genetic predisposition to make music. As a boy he listened to jazz in the mornings before school while his mother, Patricia Phillips, led him in yoga and meditation exercises. Brian and his stepfather, Ron Barker, had a rocky relationship, but Brian has always felt indebted to Barker for exposing him to artists such as Davis, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley.
At 16 Brian moved to Las Vegas to live with his father, who was still performing. "We'd travel to places like Reno and Tahoe when the Platters were on tour," Brian says, "and we'd hang out backstage and meet people like Lou Rawls. The Platters were playing hotels and clubs and casinos. When I got to college and then the pros, the glitz and the glamour never seemed foreign to me because I'd seen so much of it growing up."
Perhaps as a result, Williams likes to entertain. When parties at his house begin to drag, he's been known to break the monotony by banging on bongo drums or thumping the strings of his bass. If that doesn't get his guests going, he'll take out his sax and do his best imitation of the late Dexter Gordon playing 'Round Midnight.
Other nights Williams "just goes wherever the music is," as he says, and this inevitably has taken him to offbeat joints. When he was a student in Tucson, he often went out with his friend Ahmad ElHusseini, a student from Lebanon. It was ElHusseini's custom to kiss his friends upon greeting them, and soon word spread around campus that Williams, well-known at Arizona as a Romeo, was seen kissing a Middle Eastern man at a gay club. "But Brian a homosexual?" says ElHusseini, now 35 and a Beirut businessman. "This is ridiculous. If anything, I would like to see him like women less."
"Believe me, there are periods when the guy gets laid waiting for a bus," says Byrne. "It's almost like, 'Oops, I just got laid. The girl brought up room service, and, I don't know, it happened.' "
Despite his periodic visits to the after-hours scene, Williams seems to possess a mechanism that regulates the impulse to behave too badly. He might talk a lot, but he has no tattoos or tales of encounters with Madonna, and those times last year when he did party with Rodman, Williams was always the first to call it a night.
Williams recalls a conversation he had with Bulls coach Phil Jackson not long after Williams joined the team: "He pulled me aside and said, 'Listen, no matter what you do, don't try and keep up with Dennis, because he'll bury you.' "
Williams's time with the Bulls was so brief that it now has the sweet but slightly faded texture of a dream. He was signed by the team on April 2, after reserve center Bill Wennington was sidelined for the rest of the season with a nagging foot injury. Williams, a free agent coming off his best season (he had averaged 15.8 points and 7.6 rebounds with the Los Angeles Clippers), was available because he'd sat out 1996-97 after no team met his contract demands. The Clippers and other NBA clubs may have backed off because Williams had problems with his right knee. He had a bone spur removed from the knee in September '96, and while recuperating, he studied for his pilot's license and toured the globe. By the time the Bulls came calling, he was healthy and energized, having watched games during his time off with a new pair of eyes. "I was seeing things analytically," he says. "I'd taken the fan aspect out of it, and I was analyzing the art form of basketball. I was picking apart each play and seeing the game as I never had."
He played in only nine regular-season games and 19 postseason games with the Bulls. They were well into the playoffs before he'd worked off the rust and played himself back into shape, but after the Utah series, Scottie Pippen said Chicago probably wouldn't have won the title without Williams. After all, it was to him that the Bulls turned to help contain All-Stars Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and Karl Malone. Williams earned a meager $27,500 for his regular-season time in Chicago and $130,000 for the playoffs, but even he admits that his stay there was something of an exhibition, in which he demonstrated his value to potential employers.
"He gave the Bulls the speed and quickness they were looking for," says Mutombo. "One of Brian's biggest strengths is face-up moves. He turns and faces you, and if you don't watch out, he blows right by you."