The curtain rises on the opening of "Pat, as in Rat-A-Tat-Tat," the rave Broadway musical. Center stage, young Pat Williams, valise in hand, stands in The Loop. Skyline backdrop. The orchestra strikes up "...that toddlin' town." Chicago m�lange: gusts of wind. Sally Rand. Scar-faced gangsters. A newsboy cries: "Extra! Extra! Read all about the Monsters of the Midway and Papa Bear!" A woman in six-inch heels approaches Williams. "Hey, cutie, got a couple tickets for the Black Hawks?" Bewildered, Williams is almost bowled over by ruddy-faced men and excited urchins. "Look out, buddy, we got to get to the Cubbies' game." Williams drops his grip and cries: "Wait a minute, what about the Chicago Bulls?"
Chorus. "The Chicago who?"
The Chicago Bulls. Of the National Basketball Association," Pat Williams, 29, explains patiently over the phone. It is last fall, and he sits in his office in the nation's third largest city, the youngest general manager in major league sports. A great many important people he talks to literally have no idea who the Chicago Bulls might be.
With uncommon consistency, Chicago has rejected all efforts to provide comfort and shelter for pro basketball in its environs. The Stags, Gears and Packers-Zephyrs all atrophied, and in clever imitation of these forerunners the Bulls were showing sure signs of terminal disease by last year. They averaged 3,793 in attendance, had to sell regulars for ready cash, were late with paychecks, failed to sign top draft choices and were an embarrassment to the league.
General Manager Dick Klein, who also owned two-ninths of the team, was nevertheless fond of assuring most anyone who would listen in Chicago that the Bulls were "one player away from a world championship." More realistically, by the time his fellow owners at last decided to turn him out last summer, the roster was the weakest in the NBA. Pat Williams inherited only one major natural resource—a bright, if anonymous, young coach named Dick Motta. Otherwise, he had to depend on his own ingenuity.
Today, despite serious injuries to the team's only two recognized All-Stars and despite having to play one-fifth of their "home" schedule in Kansas City, the Bulls are hanging on to a playoff spot in the West and they are averaging nearly 10,000 a game—behind only New York and Los Angeles. It is a certified success story.
Still, for the precocious Williams, it is nothing particularly new. At the age of 24—and then for the succeeding three years—he was general manager of the Spartanburg ( S.C.) team that led all Class A baseball in attendance. Naturally, baseball could find no way to promote such a talent, so last year Williams moved to basketball and, as business manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, he produced a new attendance record there.
He has succeeded, unabashedly, as a disciple of Bill Veeck. Indeed, he found his profession reading Veeck—as in Wreck when he was a Class D player at Miami in the Phillies chain in 1962. He hit .292 that year, his first out of Wake Forest, and caught Ferguson Jenkins. But he began to understand that his future in sports did not lie on the field when another teammate, Alex Johnson (now with the Angels), advised him: "Pat, I hit 'em when I want to; you hit 'em when you can."
In preparation for his new career, Williams at last screwed up his courage and got an audience with his idol. "I'll never forget the way I first saw Bill," Williams recalls. "It was beautifully typical of him. He was lying in a hammock, his shirt off, his leg off, reading a book of Civil War poetry and drinking a can of National Bohemian beer." Veeck counseled the young man for hours, and at last—Williams drew close, as if the message had just arrived from Mount Sinai—he promised Williams the one-two-three to success in the business of sports. Williams gasped; the door of life was being unlocked. All right, Veeck told him—first learn how to type.
It was not very romantic, but Williams proved he could vamp that part. Spartanburg (pop. 44,000) drew as many as 173,000 in a season. Every night was New Year's Eve—giveaways and acrobats and dog acts and awards and contests. They even had General Eckert Night, though that did not wow the Palmetto Staters quite as much as did Henri LaMothe. Henri dove 45 feet into a tub of water 18 inches deep. "Ever since I got to Chicago," Williams says, "I've tried to figure out how to get Henri in here. But we could never clean up all the water he would splash over the court."