Mike Williams has a message for today's youth

Mike Williams has a message for today's youth

Friday, Sept. 9, 2011
posted: 1:22 p.m.

By Taylor
Several of Mike Williams' old friends, teammates and admiring opponents staged a surprise birthday party for the former De La Salle basketball star on Aug. 14. It was a joyous occasion for the 48-year-old who hasn't had too many reasons to celebrate in recent years.

"It was a roll call of players. Levi Cobb, J.J. Anderson, Donald Reese, Carl Golston, Paul Beane, Greg Williams, Lamone Lampley, Pierre Cooper, Darryl Allen, Demetrius Brown," Williams said. "I'm doing good man, hanging in there. I'm lucky to be alive."

Williams' life story is worth noting. ESPN is planning a documentary in October and ESPN The Magazine is working on a story. A book is in the works and a Los Angeles production company is doing a motion picture. Chicago radio station WVON is doing a show and he had a four-minute segment on NBC's Today show.

It's all about a guy who played only 102 minutes in the NBA, was shot eight times and paralyzed from the waist down in a bar fight in Atlanta in 2009, is learning to walk again in a Chicago nursing and rehabilitation center and is speaking out to teenagers about curtailing violence with guns, an issue he is well qualified to preach about.

"It isn't a calling," he said. "People don't see what they do to other people. I've got a lot of damage to me. Financially, it destroyed me. I've gone through a lot of pain. I lost bladder and bowel control and I have only one kidney. I used to be 6-foot-9 and weighed 275 pounds. I'm gaining my weight back.

"There's a whole lot I want to say. There is no catch phrase. I want to hit home, save a life, don't take a life. Whatever you believe, you'll have to answer for what you do. I want to show kids what they are doing to people. I happened to live. But look what I have to go through on a daily basis."

Williams grew up in Roseland, across from Fenger High School. He attended St. Anselm's grade school, which also sent LaRue Martin to De La Salle. Williams was influenced by Andrew Summerlin, a CYO coach and an icon in the South Side neighborhood, who suggested that he should join coach Jerry Tokars' program at De La Salle.

"De La Salle had a great program in those days. I still think we should have won the state title in 1980," recalled Williams, who started on De La Salle's state quarterfinal teams in 1979 and 1980 and was an All-Stater as a senior in 1981.

He played on a Chicago all-star team with Walter Downing, Andre Goode, Paul Beane, Carl Golston, Dan Ivankovich, Kevin Upshaw and Greg Williams.

They played in the Boston Shootout and in New York against teams that featured Patrick Ewing, Pearl Washington and Adrian Branch.

"Those were the good old days," he said.

Williams starred on De La Salle teams that eliminated top-ranked St.

Joseph and Isiah Thomas from the state tournament in 1979 and beat Proviso East and Glenn "Doc" Rivers in 1980. Later, he played at Cincinnati, then left when coach Ed Badger became coach of the Chicago Bulls and transferred to Bradley to play for Dick Versace. He is a member of Bradley's 1980s Team of the Decade.

He was selected by the Golden State Warriors as the fourth pick in the third round of the 1986 NBA draft. He played for three years in Italy and ended his career with the Atlanta Hawks in 1989-90. He saw only 102 minutes of playing time in the NBA.

"It wasn't disappointing at all," he said. "I made it. I played in the NBA. How many kids can say that? I had suffered a lot of injuries that held me back. I had broken my wrist in Cincinnati. I was just thrilled to get some points and block some shots and dunk on some guys. I blocked Clyde Drexler's dunk and Robert Parish's shot. So many kids don't get that chance."

Then Williams' life took a tragic turn. Working as a security guard at a night club in Atlanta, he responded to a fight.

"The next thing I know I start to hear shots," he recalled. "I fell to the ground. I don't know if I was hit. I just remember the one that hit my back. It hurt. I felt my legs go numb. I stayed conscious until the paramedics got there.

"I'm thinking 'I'm not going to like this.' I started fighting to stay alive. They take me to the hospital, the doctor said the estimated time of arrival was 18 minutes. 'Hey, I don't have 18 minutes,' I said in the ambulance. They saved my life.

"When I got to the hospital, I said, 'Just give me something for the pain.' Then I woke up two months later. Nobody said anything about how serious it was. When I woke up, I realized I couldn't move my legs and I knew something was wrong. I'm determined to walk again."

Ironically, it is Ivankovich, now a Chicago orthopedic surgeon, who is overseeing his old teammate's rehabilitation and recovery. Williams saw a story on television about a youngster who had suffered a spinal chord injury in the Haitian earthquake who was brought to Chicago by Ivankovich for care.

Williams recognized Ivankovich. "That's Big Dan," he said, instantly recalling the seven-footer from Glenbrook South. "Maybe he can help me. That's how we got started."

He e-mailed Ivankovich, who called Williams. He spent five weeks at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and has been at GlenCrest Nursing and Rehabilitation Center at 2451 W. Touhy ever since.

"I can take a few steps with braces and a walker. I can stand but my ankles don't move. I have a lot of nerve damage," Williams said. "Dan is my guardian angel. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be where I am. I'm really lucky to be alive."

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?