The Not-Quite-Legendary in New York Sports History: Buck Williams
We all know about the great athletes in New York sports history—Babe Ruth, Tom Seaver, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Namath, Mark Messier, Walt Frazier—and even the busts—Ed Whitson, Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Stephon Marbury, Scott Gomez.
But what about the slightly-to-highly-above-average athlete?
The kind-of-great, but not all-timer?
They may not have been Hall-of-Famers, but they were All-Stars, fan favorites, cogs on a championship team, or maybe even just pretty darn good. They’re the little brother that didn’t hog all the attention. But they’re certainly worth talking about and remembering.
So when do they get their due? Well, now they will. Here is a series of the not-quite-legendary in New York sports history.
Buck Williams was Mr. Net, Mr. Rebound and Mr. Class. Julius Erving may have been the most talented player the Nets have ever had, but Williams was the best NBA player the franchise has known.
In order to afford the fee to enter the NBA, the Nets had to sell Dr. J to Philadelphia. It was a classic Catch-22 situation.
And the team suffered for it. They had five straight losing seasons in their first five years in the league (though they did squeak into the playoffs one year), but that finally changed when Williams arrived in New Jersey.
Known for his relentless rebounding, he was also a proficient and accurate scorer. Williams was an all-around great player, who was the leader of the Nets in one of their few successful eras, in the first half of the 1980s. After three years at the University of Maryland (and a berth on the 1980 Olympic squad—but because of the boycott, the team didn’t get a chance to play), the Nets nabbed him with the third overall pick in the 1981 draft.
The North Carolina native was a success right out of the gate. With Williams on the team, the Nets won 20 more games than the previous season and he led them to their second-ever NBA playoff appearance. He won the Rookie of the Year award, and was the first player to represent the Nets in the NBA All-Star game.
The next season, he made the All-Star team again, the Nets made the playoffs again (they would make the postseason in Williams’ first five seasons) and Buck was named to the All-NBA second team.
The highlight of the 1983-’84 campaign came in the first round of the playoffs, when the Nets upset the defending champion 76ers, three games to two. It was the only time the Nets would get past the initial round until the Jason Kidd years.
Williams played a total of eight seasons with the Nets. He was in the top three in league rebounding for six of those years.
He made three All-Star teams.
He led the league in offensive rebounding in 1983-’84.
He made the All-Defense second team in 1988.
In his first six years with the team, he only missed one game (due to a suspension), never averaged less than 12 rebounds and usually averaged between 15 to 18 points per game. His Net career ended when he was traded to Portland after the 1989 season for Sam Bowie and a draft pick (which turned into Mookie Blaylock).
He went to two NBA Finals with the Trail Blazers, twice led the league in field-goal percentage, made the NBA’s All-Defense team twice, and the All-Defense second team once while in Portland.
He finished his career as a solid backup for a season and a half with the Knicks, retiring in January of 1999.
Williams played 17 seasons in the NBA. He’s only one of seven players in NBA history to score more than 16,000 points while grabbing over 13,000 rebounds. He’s 10th on the league’s all-time rebounding list. He served as the president of the NBA Players Association from 1994 to ’97.
And he had his No. 52 retired by the Nets.
Williams was a rebounding machine, and was one of the best power forwards of his era.
He was popular.
He was likable.
He was dignified.
He was an outstanding basketball player.
And it’s impossible to say a bad word about Buck Williams.
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