Good Kid, New City
Marvin Williams is ready to take his game to another level.
by Yaron Weitzman | @YaronWeitzman
As a kid growing up in Bremerton, WA, visiting Spain was something that Jazz forward Marvin Williams never dreamed of doing.
The son of two working class parents—Marvin’s mother, Andrea, was a receptionist while his father, Marvin Sr, was a coach—money was not something that the Williams family had a lot of while Marvin was growing up. Taking a trip to an exotic country wasn’t something they ever discussed.
This summer, though, Williams, his father and his brothers—Demetrius and J’tonn—got to do the very thing Williams never thought they ever would. It was a special few days. Trips that lead to a sense of validation and vindication usually are.
“Twenty years ago, I never would have thought that I’d get to see a place like Spain,” Williams says over the phone from his former Atlanta home. “I’ve done so many things in my life that I never would have dreamed of doing, and all just because I can play basketball. So I don’t care what the next guy thinks or says about me. Obviously I have work to do, but nobody can tell me that my career has not been a success.”
Ever since the Atlanta Hawks took Williams with the No. 2 pick the 2005 NBA Draft, ahead of future perennial All-Stars Deron Williams and Chris Paul, the former Tar Heel has been forced to make statements like this in response to what he feels has been the unfair trial of his career. Yes, the eight combined All-Star games that Paul and Deron Williams have played in are eight more than Marvin has. Ask Marvin about this, though, and he’ll tell you that appearances in a yearly exhibition game is no way to properly judge a career.
Instead, he’ll tell you how he is now able to support his parents, and more effectively than he could as a 15-year-old boy working at a grocery store. He’ll tell you about the youth center he’s helping build in Bremerton with the money and the platform that his position in the NBA has handed him. He’ll tell you about the comfortable lives he’s been able to provide his younger brothers.
“Marvin had to grow up fast,” says Williams’ high school coach, Casey Lindberg. “He had more responsibility than your average 16- or 17-year-old.”
Says Williams, “Basketball was my escape, and it gave me a chance to give my brothers a better life and let them see things in life, so my career is not based on how I look compared to other guys. I’ve been very blessed to play basketball for a living and I’m not going to let anyone’s expectations or comparisons hinder what I’ve done.”
Since entering the NBA, Williams’ on-the-court reputation has been a victim of unfortunate circumstances: Atlanta’s decision to select him instead of two future superstars, a choice which relegated Williams to a career full of impossible-to-match comparisons. Being on a team full of ball-stopping scorers where he was forced to play third or fourth or fifth fiddle.
In his seven years in the NBA, Williams has constantly found himself in situations that have highlighted his deficiencies instead of his strengths.
At 6-9, the 26-yeard-old forward is big enough to guard power forwards. He’s s also quick enough to defend guards. Offensively, Williams never became a dominant scorer (his career scoring average is 11.5 points per game), but he did develop into an efficient and valuable player on that side of the court. He doesn’t need the ball, or hold onto it—two assets, that, combined with his ability to space the floor (39 percent from behind the arc last season) and proficiency in shooting from the corners make him the perfect complementary player.
Unfortunately for Williams, the pieces he has been asked to complement in his first seven seasons in the NBA haven’t meshed with his skill set and style of play. In Utah, however, City of Ball Movement, that’s likely to change. At least that’s what those who know Williams best seem to believe. And the fact that the Jazz are in desperate need of some outside shooting means that they need Williams as much as he needs them.
“I think new scenery and a change of pace will be great for Marvin,” says Roy Williams, who coached Marvin at North Carolina. “They’re (the Jazz) going to ask him to do different things then he was asked to do in Atlanta and I think he’s about ready to blossom. I think he’s going to take his game to a different level in Utah. He’s going to be much more involved instead of always staying on the side waiting for something to happen.”
Marvin’s career as a willing complementary player actually began in Chapel Hill under Roy Williams. At the time Roy felt that his Tar Heels would be better of with Marvin coming off the bench. For a McDonald’s All American like Marvin, such a request would have been a legitimate cause to rebel. Marvin, however, never raised a single objection. The result was the 2005 National Championship.
“Never once did he make me or anyone else feel that he wasn’t 100 percent all in with that decision,” Roy Williams says. “He never complained. No one else would have handled moving to the bench in that situation with the grace and character that Marvin did.”
If the spectrum for evaluating a high draft pick stretches from Chris Paul to Darko Milicic, well then Marvin Williams probably falls somewhere in between. A future Hall of Famer he is not; a bust, neither, though if you have to pick a point that his career has been closer to, it would most likely be the former as opposed to the latter.
But to Williams, that’s not what matters most. What does is that he’s a man who has now been to Spain.