Thursday night, Pat Williams ended up where he always belonged.
His career is not over. His life is certainly not over. Pat Williams always has another trick up his sleeve. Another cause to pursue. Another book to write.
Williams has a lot left to do. He has a lot left to accomplish. Knowing Pat Williams, he will get it all done and more.
It was this kind of enthusiasm and zeal and passion that led Williams through a lifetime in the NBA — from Chicago to Philadelphia. It was this kind of foresight and optimism that led him to Orlando. Without Pat Williams, there is no Orlando Magic. And so it is fitting for Orlando fans that we get to celebrate Pat Williams some and appreciate everything that he has given the city of Orlando and the NBA.
The Basketball Hall of Fame presented Pat Williams with the Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday. An award well deserved for a man who has given so much to the sport and to the league.
Orlando has completely changed and continues to change since Williams and Jimmy Hewitt had a crazy idea to bring basketball to a small Orlando. Sure the city/metropolitan area had Disney World in its backyard, but this was a city that still had a rural identity and still was coming into its own as a city. Nobody suspected that Orlando would be the landing place a professional sports team. Not with Miami in the bidding for an NBA team. Or Jacksonville. Or Tampa.
Williams and Hewitt both saw Orlando as the place to be for the NBA. More than 20 years later, we can certainly say that risk and that vision worked.
Perhaps Williams put it best when he talked with Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel ahead of the Hall of Fame ceremony:
“Well, look at us now,” Williams said. “My goodness, we’re a big-time city.”
A lot of the entertainment events and growth in the Orlando area are an off shoot of Williams decision and drive to bring the NBA to The City Beautiful. Disney helped too, certainly. It put Orlando on the map. But Disney is technically in Osceola County. It is closer to Kissimmee than it is to Orlando. This was a humongous risk. Not after winning a championship and a successful run as the general manager and general salesman for the 76ers.
He left that cushy job in Philadelphia for the chance to start something completely new in Orlando. He was the man rolling up his sleeves to sell those first tickets. He was the one who put together the first team as its general manager.
As he tells John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com, Williams still appears in awe of how far he has come and the impact he has had on Orlando and the league:
“I’m just going to talk about how I’m the most unlikeliest of candidates to be standing there. I look at this long list of predecessors who were deeply involved in basketball from the beginning of their lives and I’m catching in the Florida State League and working in minor league baseball. One phone call changed my life and it came from Dr. Jack Ramsay. He was about to become the coach and GM of the 76ers and he was about to trade Wilt Chamberlain to the Lakers. He needed somebody to run his front office as he took off to coach. That’s how I got my start and the rest is history.”
His job with the Magic is largely diminished now — he is not the general manager or lead ticket seller anymore. Williams focuses his work on charity and on his motivational speaking and writing. It seems like he churns out another insightful, motivational book featuring the leadership advice of greats from all walks of life. Even with multiple myeloma. The cancer has not slowed Williams down at all.
The mission is still remission and not even cancer can defeat Williams’ never-ending enthusiasm and optimism for life. He is an inspiration for all.
Williams is now a member of the Hall of Fame as the Basketball Hall of Fame recognizes all his contributions to the sport. Congratulations, Pat Williams!
Images: Steve Freeman/Getty Images, New York Post