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The Sactown Greatest #13: Walt Williams

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(So this is the next in an intermittent series of stories on the 16 greatest Kings of the Sacramento era. We started a long time ago, with #16 Bobby Jackson. Then, LaSalle Thompson came in at #15. Louismg had a fantastic write-up for #14 Kenny Smith, and now you get my thoughts on #13 Walt Williams. Enjoy.)

Walt Williams was the most promising rookie the Kings have ever had.

The Wizard was like our very own Tracy McGrady in 1993. If he got his hands on the ball, he was shooting or going to the rim. Despite having two really talented teammates (Mitch Richmond and Wayman Tisdale) and some other good bit players (Spud Webb, the momentarily underrated Pete Chilcutt) on the floor with him, it was "Wiz or Nothing" when Williams got the rock.

It was thrilling to watch, as a 12-year-old kid. Nevermind that I was a young Maryland transplant to the River City, and The Wizard was Terrapin Basketball's savior just a few years after Lefty Driesell left the program for the buzzards. Nevermind all that. The Wizard's game was magical when it was on, and that rookie season it was very often on.

I remember the first box score I ever clipped from the newspaper: The morning of January 3, 1994. It's a shame that clip never survived the several crosstown moves I made - I remember it being wedged behind a Cal Ripken, Jr. Topps card in a sturdy plastic protector sleeve. Haven't seen it in a decade, at least.

That box score showed Walt Williams scoring 40 points - off the bench. Current databases show The Wizard did it in 30 minutes, a fact I had not remembered. I did remember the 154 points Sacramento put up on the depleted Sixers. I'm pretty sure that's still a team record.

Anyways, that game sealed it: Walt Williams was Sacramento's Larry Bird. Even at that young age, I could smell Lionel Simmons's bad vibes. I knew I favored The Wizard over The L Train. The rest of the season backed it up, as Walt went on to 30+ four more times while L Train did it twice despite bigger minutes. Simmons was on the wrong side of my first starter-vs.-backup debate.

However, The Wizard was on the wrong side of Garry St. F*cking Jean's debate. Walt started a grand total of four games in 1994-95, while Simmons started 74. Simmons was his normal blah, boring, L Train self. Williams acquired "Kenny Thomas syndrome" and fell off quite a bit from his All-Rookie season. He was still the better choice - and I like to think many older and wiser Kings fans agreed with me. But he didn't prove it coming off the bench, and he became Just Another King.

In 1995-96, Williams got the starting nod from St. Jean and made the most of it, again becoming a potent wing companion to All-Star Richmond. Williams shot almost as well as Richmond that season and was a far superior passer, but didn't get a ton of recognition. He got traded midway through the next season for - wait for it - Billy Owens and Kevin Gamble. Owens, who was famously traded to Golden State the day he was drafted by Sacramento for Richmond, sucked minutes, roster space, and money for three years. Gamble sucked only one more season before retiring. Williams remained somewhere between serviceable and good for four more seasons before sucking in Houston and Dallas to finish his career.

Most Kings fans are thankful to forget the Walt Williams era. And I'd be a liar if I said I didn't prefer the incredible success that has come since then. But there was some sort of lightning in the bottle for me when Walt Williams took over Sacramento for half a season. And that's lightning that has yet to be duplicated for me by any Kings player, though Ron Artest came close last year.