• Over 17 NBA seasons, former Blazer garnered top stats and respect on all fronts
On March 7, Charles Linwood Williams turned 44. The 6-8 Williams Ñ you knew him as 'Buck' Ñ says he weighs about 240, or 15 pounds over the weight he maintained during 17 seasons as a true NBA warrior. But his wife, Mimi, keeps him on what he calls a 'strict diet.'
'I haven't eaten red meat since I retired in 1998,' says the man who meant so much to the Trail Blazer championship runs of the early 1990s. 'Some salmon, some chicken, and that's about all the meat I eat. I'm not in bad shape, but not in playing shape. I try to work out two or three times a week Ñ not as often as I should.'
It is hard to imagine Williams anything but fit. The image of the undersized, overachieving, savvy power forward matching bodies and wits with Karl Malone in the trenches remains vivid. Nobody in the NBA battled the Mailman better during the seven seasons (1989-96) Williams spent in a Portland uniform.
Williams lives in Potomac, Md. Ñ not far from the University of Maryland campus where he began to carve his reputation as a player in the late '70s Ñ with Mimi and sons Julien, 14, and Malek, 11.
Both children were born during his time in Portland with the Blazers. Each is taking after his father on the basketball court. Julien is a freshman in high school, '6 foot or 6-1 tall,' Buck says. 'I am trying to get him to 6-5 or 6-6. He was kind of late getting into basketball, but he is a very good athlete.'
For a little more than a year, Williams has been managing partner with Information Technology Co., a professional computer service firm that employs 50 people and manages network operation centers. Williams heads up the firm's commercial business unit.
'I have always been a techie kind of guy,' Williams says, laughing his hoarse laugh. 'I discovered laptops while with the Blazers and have been fascinated with the cutting edge of technology since then. I'm having fun with it.'
Missing 'the beautiful people'
Williams set a standard few have reached during his NBA career. He ranks fourth in games played (1,307) and 10th in rebounds (13,017). He is one of eight players in history to amass 16,000 points and 12,000 rebounds in his career. And his field-goal percentage (.549) is among the best in league history.
But Williams' contributions as a player go beyond numbers. Few provided the leadership and intangibles he offered during his eight years with New Jersey, seven years with Portland and two years with New York. The respect he commanded around the league was displayed when he served as president of the players' union for three years in the mid-'90s.
'I do miss playing,' he says. 'Not so much the games, but the relationships with the beautiful people I met along the way. The camaraderie with my teammates Ñ that is what I miss more than anything. I don't miss banging on Karl Malone. I just hope it didn't take six months off my life.'
Williams was an all-defensive first team choice his first two years with Portland, and his intangibles and leadership were considered the final pieces of the puzzle for a Blazer team that went to the finals in 1990 and '92.
'Those are the most memorable moments of my career,' Williams says. 'I never played on a team where guys were so genuinely close. Everyone bought into not being only good teammates but good friends. I still consider Clyde (Drexler), Terry (Porter) and Jerome (Kersey) among my best friends even today.
'The chemistry on that team was almost perfect. Everybody had defined roles. Everybody respected each other as a person and as a player. That's what made the thing go. We did things off the court together. Our wives all got along well, which is almost impossible,' he says.
'It seemed like we epitomized what Blazer basketball was supposed to be about. We won a lot of games, and I cherish all those times in Portland,' Williams says. 'That was the defining moment of my career, when I got traded to the Trail Blazers.'
Family atmosphere ruled
Williams remembers the relationship between the team and its fans with great fondness.
'We knew there was a legacy with that '77 championship team to live up to,' Williams says. 'We knew how important people like (Bill) Walton and (Maurice) Lucas and (Bobby) Gross had been. We wanted to be a -vital part of the community, on and off the court. Nobody is perfect, but we wanted to try to be good role models for the kids who looked up to us as professional athletes.
'People in Portland considered the Blazers like family. It was like they knew you on a personal basis. That was real special to me. There is nothing like playing your home games in Madison Square Garden, but there wasn't that emotional attachment we had every night at Memorial Coliseum.'
Soon after Bob Whitsitt took over as president and general manager in 1994, the dismantling of the group so hallowed by fans began. First it was Drexler. By the time Williams departed to free agency after the 1995-96 season, 'I was the last one standing,' he says.
'To be honest,' Williams says, 'I felt out of place. From Day One, Bob had ideas about how he wanted to shape the team, and we weren't a part of the plans. We all saw the writing on the wall. We tried to do what we could to play hard and hopefully land in a place where we could finish our careers. It was unfortunate, because we all had a lot more game in us. We could have stayed together and contended for at least another year, maybe two.'
Asylum analogy applied
Williams watched from afar as the Blazers, loading up on players with questionable character to go with considerable talent, nearly made the finals again in 1999-2000, then plummeted, both in the standings and in their standing in the community.
'As a GM, you go for talent first, but it is a balancing act,' Williams says. 'If one or two guys are trying to find themselves, OK, but you can't bring in five or six guys like that. In Portland, it seemed like the patients were running the asylum. It turned off the community, and it was clear (owner) Paul Allen wasn't getting his money's worth.'
When Maurice Cheeks was hired to coach the Blazers in 2001, he spoke to Williams about a position on his coaching staff.
'We couldn't put the final pieces together,' Williams says. 'But I remarked to Maurice, 'I'm a Blazer,' and if the right situation came along, I would move back to Portland tomorrow.
'I did not want to leave Portland. I wanted to end my playing career there. If there were a position in the front office, or perhaps on the coaching staff, I would definitely be interested.
'I love Portland. I just have so many friends out there. It's a city at my pace. I am all about the outdoors and the community. I loved going camping on Mount Hood, taking my boat out on the Willamette. It was a great place for me and my family.'