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In the summer of 1987 the Reggie everyone wanted was Georgetown's Williams—not UCLA's Miller, not Northeastern's Lewis. Blade thin but battle tough, the Hoyas' 6'7" Reggie Williams looked like the real thing, a classic NBA swingman with both an outside shooting touch and the moxie to mix it up inside.
"He might do as much [in the NBA] as anybody who has been here," said Georgetown coach John Thompson, not normally a gusher. "He's everything you would want in somebody that size." Rick Pitino, then the coach at Providence College, agreed: "He can do it all, believe me."
And so even the Los Angeles Clippers, a team both inept and unlucky, knew enough to grab Williams when he was still available at No. 4 in the June draft—David Robinson, Armon Gilliam and Dennis Hopson having been taken as the top three choices, by San Antonio, Phoenix and New Jersey, respectively. And then the Clippers stoked the public relations furnace.
"We feel like we're getting two players in Reggie, because he can play big guard and small forward," said Clipper general manager Elgin Baylor. (Reggie should have winced.) "We have a super player in Reggie Williams, a guy who can step right in and play," said coach Gene Shue. (Reggie should have broken out in a cold sweat.) "I think Reggie is going to set this city on fire," said owner Donald T. Sterling. "I think he's a Michael Jordan-type player." (Reggie should have enlisted in the French Foreign Legion.)
Three years later, a once traded (by the Clippers, last November), once waived (by the Cleveland Cavaliers, in February) Reggie Williams sits in a hotel room, pondering an uncertain future and wondering why so many of the players drafted after him have been so successful.
The accolades have turned to dust, which is exactly what Williams, who recently turned 26, is gathering with the San Antonio Spurs. After the Spurs plucked him from the waiver wire on March 5, Williams fought a bout with a stomach virus. He had played in only two Spurs games as of last weekend and for the season was averaging 7.2 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. And even when he's healthy, he'll probably be at the end of the bench down there in 12th-man land.
A student of NBA trivia—Lakers past and present are a particular interest—Williams is keenly aware of how many players selected after him in the '87 draft have found NBA success. Kevin Johnson of Phoenix, Scottie Pippen of Chicago, Mark Jackson of New York, Horace Grant of Chicago, Kenny Smith, now with Atlanta, Derrick McKey of Seattle and, of course, the two Reggies, Miller (the 11th pick, with Indiana) and Lewis (No. 22, with Boston). Lewis, in fact, is one of three high school teammates who have passed Williams by, Charlotte's Muggsy Bogues and the Spurs' David Wingate being the other two.
"I feel good for them, all of them." says Williams. "Just because I haven't found the right situation yet doesn't mean I sit around and hope everyone else has troubles." Williams is determined not to give in to bitterness and despair, and, evidently, he hasn't done so. Factors out of his control doomed him in Los Angeles, he says, and he feels that he wasn't given a fair chance during his 32-game stint with the Cavaliers. There is some validity to his thinking, but, clearly, the time has come for him to start producing more. "There's no doubt that he's lost the luster of being a high pick," admits his agent, David Falk of ProServ.
Put it this way: Reggie Williams was dealt a bad hand when he came into the NBA...and he has played it badly.
Williams was bred for competition on the talent-rich playgrounds of Baltimore. At Dunbar High School he was a starter for a team that went 59-0 during his last two seasons. Dunbar had so much talent that Reggie Lewis often played a sixth-man role. The other Reggie "was pretty much the man," said Lewis. "Him and Muggs." Dunbar coach Bob Wade called Williams "the guy we looked to."