Gus William the star guard, No. 1 in your programs, No. 1 in your stats, arrives with the rest of them. Today the Seattle SuperSonics are keeping regular office hours, or, rather—in their world of midnight ramblers—what passes for regular office hours.
It is nearing noon on another bleak Tuesday in Seattle, and just when most folks are contemplating lunch, the Sonics are contemplating the latest in a series of plays devised by Coach Lenny Wilkens.
As the team warms up, the cavernous Kingdome is silent except for the dull echo of a basketball slapping against the court. During stretching exercises—when Jack Sikma and Lonnie Shelton and Fred Brown and Wally Walker and Bill Hanzlik and Gus Williams are arrayed on the floor like so many lean finger sandwiches on a tray—you hear an occasional self-conscious mumble or giggle. Wilkens calls the players to order for half-court drills, which are supposed to be repetitious. Rehearsals always are in sport, as they are in the theater. Wilkens coolly repeats the warnings the Sonics have heard so many times. Hysteria isn't the mode here: Slogans aren't plastered on the wall. Everything about the practice reminds you it is business.
Then, just as quietly, Wilkens divides the Sonics into two squads of five and sends a couple of extra men to the sidelines to watch the full-court scrimmage. Grumbling, Gus Williams sits down next to John Johnson, the veteran forward who is recovering from surgery that repaired a torn Achilles tendon.
"When we start going full-court, he takes me out," Williams says. "Just when I can start having some fun."
That is the dramatic conflict in this story. Business against pleasure. Work against play. Delight against principle. It isn't quite a one-man show—there are too many supporting actors—but for the most part this is a drama acted within Gus Williams.
Here is a 28-year-old man who says he lives to play basketball but who denied himself his essence for a year.
"I love the game," Williams says. "I started playing basketball when I was five, when I was in kindergarten. I started heaving the ball up at the basket and then it became a way of life. But now it's my job, my livelihood, too. I love the game, and I missed the crowds. I missed the locker rooms. I missed it all."
Here is a man who turned down a three-year contract worth at least $1.5 million and sat out all of last season because of one simple conviction: He thought he was worth more.
"As certain things went on during the negotiations," Williams says, "I learned my principles were stronger than I ever thought. I love the game so much. But certain principles can be much more valuable than playing or money."