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A quick start for the Hot Rod
Jaime Diaz
November 10, 1986
After idling last season, Cleveland's John Williams hits the road in the NBA
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November 10, 1986

A Quick Start For The Hot Rod

After idling last season, Cleveland's John Williams hits the road in the NBA

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At the heart of the youth movement is a frontcourt rotation of Williams, Daugherty, Keith Lee and Melvin Turpin. The most versatile of the big men is the 230-pound Williams, who has the potential to evolve into a very large small forward. He also is tough enough to play long stints in the pivot, and he has one other attribute that has impressed the Cavs. "He's got heart," says Minnifield. "That's the first thing we noticed. He's been through so much that I don't think there's anything that can bother him."

On March 26, 1985, Williams was arrested on sports bribery charges in connection with two games during his senior year at Tulane. Without a lawyer present, Williams told authorities that he had accepted cash payments while he was at Tulane and had received $10,000 in a shoe box from one alumnus while he was being recruited. But he denied having been part of a point-shaving conspiracy.

In the course of legal proceedings, which have so far included the bringing of criminal charges against eight people, Williams's woeful academic record was exposed, and he was portrayed as a greedy drug user by the prosecution. The shock waves of a scandal that has yet to run its course—two of those indicted are still awaiting trial—ultimately led to the suspension of the basketball program at Tulane.

But there were problems with the prosecution's case against Williams. All six of the key witnesses who testified that Williams had taken part in fixing—including three of his former teammates—had either been granted immunity or pleaded guilty to reduced charges. And if Williams had indeed gone in the tank, it was hard to tell by his performance on the basketball court. Against Southern Mississippi, a game in which Williams allegedly helped ensure that Tulane would win by less than 10 points, the defense pointed out that he scored 16 points and was 6 for 6 from the field in the second half. When Memphis State defeated Tulane 60-49—a game that Tulane played as a 7-point underdog—Williams scored 14 points.

On draft day, Weltman, banking on an acquittal, drafted Williams despite an NBA advisory that Williams would be ineligible until he was absolved of guilt. Weltman's move was called "morally indefensible" by one Cleveland columnist, but today Weltman says, "I'm proud to be the person who gave John a chance."

When the judge declared a mistrial in August of '85 because the prosecution withheld evidence, Williams went to the Cavs' training camp. But commissioner David Stern ruled that Williams could not play in the NBA until his case was resolved. To stay in shape, Hot Rod played with the USBL Rhode Island Gulls, where he was voted Rookie of the Year. But when the Gulls' season ended, he glumly sat in the Richfield Coliseum and watched the Cavs lose.

"That was the worst part," says Williams, "knowing that I could have helped them win and having to watch. And knowing I didn't do nothing wrong."

Williams was finally retried in June, and his attorney, Michael Green, destroyed the credibility of the prosecution witnesses. In 2� hours the jury returned with a verdict of not guilty.

Slowly the joy that Williams radiates when he is on the court is being matched off it. In one breath he will say he learned that "you can't trust nobody, not even your team players," but in the next he will say, "If you be angry, you just make yourself bad."

Says Daugherty, "John just wants to get on with his life. The whole thing down in Tulane smelled. Now it's time for good things."

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