"A big tall white turkey," he called Spirlea after her collision with Venus at the 1997 U.S. Open.
"I think Serena would kick her butt going and coming," Richard said of Hingis last August, before Hingis crushed Serena 6-4, 6-1 in the Acura Classic in Manhattan Beach, Calif. "Sometimes he should watch his mouth," Hingis said after the match.
He hit bizarre new heights at the 1999 Lipton, when Venus and Serena became the first sisters to meet in a pro-level tournament final in 115 years. Before, while and after his daughters engaged in a curiously flat match—which Venus won 6-1, 4-6, 6-4—Richard put on a one-man sideshow, holding up hand-printed signs (I TOLD YOU SO!) in the stands and holding two spectacularly jarring press conferences, one before and one after the match, in which he declared: 1) Steffi Graf was his favorite player; 2) he wasn't capitalizing as much as he could on his daughters' success because he does so much work for "the Chinese peoples and the Japanese peoples"; and 3) "As a matter of fact, we thinking now about buying Rockefeller Center for $3,900,000,000, so I don't have time to even think about tennis no more."
Before the Lipton final Richard claimed that he creates three businesses a year that he expects to be worth $10 million to $15 million each, though the specific names of these companies, apart from the Williams & Williams charter bus service, remain a mystery. He spoke of plans to publish comic books and said that as a singer he could become good enough to "push" Michael Jackson. After the match he said he had left the stands at one point because he felt like crying, only to end up arguing with a vendor because he had only $1.50 to spend on a $3 pretzel. His hands shook as he spoke. "I actually feel like a fool," he said. For a man described by his defenders as a loving father and shrewd dealmaker and by his critics as controlling and manipulative, this was the weirdest incarnation yet: Richard Williams out of touch, benign and bumbling.
But those who know Richard best don't buy it. "Rockefeller Center? I've heard a million things crazier than that," says Rick Macci, who coached Venus and Serena from September 1991 to July '95 at his Delray Beach, Fla., tennis academy. "He did an interview when Venus first moved to the academy and told the interviewer someone offered him $78 million for the rights to the kids." Richard would call and say that the girls wouldn't be around some weekend because 'we're going to the White House.' I didn't know if he meant the white house down the road or the real White House. When I'd tell him he throws a better curve than Greg Maddux, he'd just say, 'I've got to keep everybody off balance.' "
"There's a method to his madness," says Keven Davis, the family's agent and legal adviser for the last 11 years. "Everything he says is very well thought out and intends a certain result. Ninety-nine times out of 100, he gets that result. Don't ever underestimate Richard."
Don't ever take what he says completely at face value, either. At the Lipton, Richard said that his daughter Isha, 25, "is getting ready to graduate from law school," and "she's already taking classes to become a surgeon." Isha, who was enrolled at Howard as a senior last semester, says that she will enter Georgetown Law next fall and that she's thinking about going on to medical school afterward.
At the Lipton, Richard also spoke of a psychiatrist named Michael J. Goldstein, who had advised Venus and Serena to limit the number of tournaments they both would play in. But more recently Richard, who receives a salary for coaching and managing his daughters and also claims to make a living lending money, buying and selling property, and developing businesses, said, "Dr. Michael J. Goldstein, Rubenstein and Weinstein are in charge of collecting [raising] money from the Jews for me."
In 1991 Richard told SI that his Compton security firm, Samson Security, employed six people. Today he says that Samson, which closed in '92, had 55 employees at its peak.
None of these inconsistencies bother Richard. "The key to success is looking at something you want and dreaming it's yours," he says. "People used to look at me and say, 'That man can lie.' My wife used to say to me, 'What's your problem? Why do you lie so much?' Because when people would see me, I'd say, 'I'm a millionaire.' They'd say, 'Man, you live in that raggedy old house.' I'd say, 'So what? Didn't you know millionaires live in raggedy houses? You ever been in Beverly Hills? I own every house and every car down there.' Today I do own a home in Beverly Hills, I own a home in Brentwood."