Few records in sports are as underappreciated as Williams's mark for consecutive free throws made: 97, over two seasons, from March 24 to Nov. 9,1993, with the Timberwolves. On the way to 97, Williams had to pass die previous record of 78, set by Calvin Murphy, the former Rockets guard who today is one of Houston's TV broadcasters. That was no layup. Murphy enjoyed owning the record and wouldn't relinquish it easily. "I was glad Houston had a game the night I broke it, because Murphy couldn't be there," says Williams. "I didn't have to think about him sitting nearby. He said he would have wasted a $300 plane trip to keep his record."
Williams, 31, is now a backup guard for Minnesota, his once promising career thwarted by injuries. (This season, through Saturday, he had made 28 of 29 free throws.) His record is a stunning footnote to an ordinary career. His memory for details of the streak is extraordinaiy.
"In Denver the rim gets lost in the yellow seats behind the basket," he says. "The year I started the streak, we went to Denver for a game, and I was 13 for 19 from die line. The next time there I was 6 for 10. Then we went there during the streak, and I hit six in a row. There was a technical foul, and I was going to take the shot when Doug West ran over and said, 'Mike, you've got the record going, do you want me to shoot it?' I told him, 'If I miss it, I don't deserve the record.' That free throw was probably the most difficult one in the streak."
Williams has made a study of the form of the free throw. He compares it to the golf swing. " Fred Couples doesn't have the same swing as Tiger Woods," he says, "but at impact, they're releasing their muscles at the same time, and they have the same follow-through." In golf and in foul shooting, Williams says, "everything is set-up, routine and technique."
He knows that the record is likely to be the thing for which he will be remembered most. He's modest about what it all means. "I'm not the kind of guy who wears it around my neck," he says. "I didn't have 97 made into a necklace. But I'm proud of it." As well he should be.