You never know which moments will change your life forever. For former Bull Scott Williams, one came from an offensive rebound late in a charity pickup game in Greensboro, North Carolina in the summer of 1990. And a phone call made by Michael Jordan.
At the time, Williams was a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina, where he started three of his four seasons and averaged 14.5 points and 7.3 rebounds as a senior. But his place in the NBA was uncertain. Williams went unselected in the 1990 draft, and given nagging ailments in his shoulder, was soon pressed to find a home in the league.
Appearing on the Bulls Talk Podcast with Leila Rahimi and Will Perdue, Williams said he failed a physical at a tryout with the nearby Charlotte Hornets because of his “no-good shoulder.” Then, he got a call from the Bulls.
“I end up going to Chicago, and Jerry Krause is the first person to meet me when I get off the plane,” Williams said on the podcast. “He says, ‘I heard you just failed your physical in Charlotte, but we’ll give you a chance to make our rookie roster.’ So I went out to Summer League and played on the rookie roster.”
Williams, of course, eventually made the team and stuck with the Bulls for four seasons from 1990-1994, winning three titles along the way. His insatiable work ethic in practice was among the many things he was valued for as a reserve on those teams, according to Perdue.
But it all might not have happened without that call from Jordan. What inspired it was a crucial string of plays late in an exhibition game to benefit underprivileged kids in Greensboro, hosted by Fred Whitfield, a longtime friend to Jordan. Williams, by way of his Tar Heel roots, was invited to play, and ended up on the same squad as Jordan.
“I did pretty good, was holding my own most of the game, getting pushed around a little bit, pushing some other guys around,” Williams said on the podcast. “And I find myself getting an offensive rebound late in the game with us down one (point). And I said, I can go back up with this, or I could try to find the best player to ever play the game.
“Sure enough, I found him out on the baseline, about 19 feet out. I gave him one of the Dean Smith two-handed chest passes that he taught me, totally right out of the textbook, and Jordan ends up going up for one of his classic jumpshots and cans the jumper and we end up winning the game by one.”
Then, Williams didn’t think much of the interplay between the two. But upon being asked by Whitfield to participate in a documentary about the camp years later, Williams came to learn that that game may just have been the reason he got a call from Krause to try out for the Bulls in the first place.
“I think I impressed him (Jordan) just enough in that game, that he’s the one that calls Krause and tells him to give me a little bit of a look,” Williams said. “One of the things Fred (Whitfield) told me was that MJ made that call to Krause after that game when they were leaving the arena, and Fred was with him. So I thought that was pretty cool.”
But, as Williams was quick to note, this was no handout. Entering the 1990-91 season, yet without a title and fresh off three consecutive playoff defeats to the Bad Boy Pistons, Jordan wasn’t in a position in his career to be doing favors solely out of the kindness of his heart.
“I tell ya, I don’t think he (Jordan) makes that call if he doesn’t think I can help the club because, as Will will tell you, he was hell-bent on winning a championship,” Williams said. “Because he had never won one before, the Pistons had knocked them out of the playoffs the previous three years. I don’t think he was just doing it to help out a Carolina Tar Heel that was down on his luck.”
From then on, Williams and Perdue both confirmed, Jordan was especially hard on Williams during Bulls practices. As is to be expected. But the two shared a close friendship throughout, dotted by nights at the Jordan residence inhaling spaghetti dinners, shooting pool and watching basketball. Williams otherwise forged a 15-year NBA career that featured spells in Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Denver, Phoenix, Dallas and Cleveland. And it all might not have happened without that exhibition contest.
Also on the Podcast, Rahimi, Perdue and Williams break down Perdue and Williams’ still-vivid memories of Jordan’s first retirement, old Bulls practice stories (including a time Williams and Tex Winter nearly came to blows), and the similarities and differences between the Bulls’ rivalries with the Knicks and Pistons.
Listen to the Bulls Talk Podcast here or via the embedded player above.
Bulls Talk Podcast