Lou Williams is somehow both underappreciated and respected. He’s arrogant and humble. He’s young and old. He’s super laid-back and he’s an assassin.
He lives in a quiet town and throws parties so big they inspire hit rap songs. He makes his own music and doesn’t care to promote it much.
He never starts and is always one of the best basketball players in a game. He won’t go unnoticed and he won’t say a word. He does things his way and is the ultimate teammate. He keeps to himself and he’s cool with every celebrity you know.
He hasn’t been an All-Star and he regularly puts up All-Star numbers. He writes his name in record books and could not give a shit about his legacy.
The story of Lou Will can be broken down into what seems like a million contradictions, but they’re not. They all make perfect sense for the Underground GOAT.
It’s a beautiful Thursday in mid-June and Lou Williams is kicking it at LouWillVille, his now-fabled home in suburban Atlanta. Wearing black sweatpants and Uggs that aren’t fully slipped on, he crashes on the living room couch. A nearby trophy case displays two Sixth Man of the Year awards—from 2015 and 2018—and a ledge for a third has already been put in place, even though a formal announcement of the 2019 winner has yet to come.
Jerseys hung up in the basement trace Lou’s journey from a kid dreaming of the NBA to the No. 1 bench scorer in league history. Trying to explain that path and all that it’s encompassed isn’t easy. The truth is, it’s had a little bit of everything. Five different cities, an idol turned big brother, an acceptance and mastery of a unique role, a 3 a.m. trade call in China, an absurd amount of buckets. It’s featured a wide array of characters: Jermaine Dupri, Bow Wow, Allen Iverson, Meek Mill, Drake, Doc Rivers. It’s had ups and downs and strange twists, but the action continues to rise.
Its protagonist is only 32 years old and has enough tales to fill several books.
He once hosted a party so epic that it inspired Meek Mill, one of his best friends, to write the well-known song “House Party.” It went on to be certified gold and the music video was filmed back at LouWillVille.
Lou raps himself and has collaborated on projects with Meek, 2 Chainz, Jadakiss and numerous others. He started his own label—Winners United—that has three artists currently signed to it.
As a teenager, he was introduced to Jermaine Dupri and Bow Wow at a Jay-Z concert and would keep in touch with them on AOL Instant Messenger. They all remain tight to this day.
He joined an unknown, unsponsored AAU club called the Suwanee Players and made them so good that they were eventually absorbed by a premier program—the Georgia Stars.
At South Gwinnett High School, he scored 40 or more points in nine straight games.
He spent a lot of time in the studio with Drake as the album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late was being recorded. One of the tracks, “6 Man,” opens with a shout out to him.
He led the Clippers back from a 31-point second-half deficit against the Warriors during the first round of the 2019 playoffs, dropping 17 of his 36 in the third quarter alone.
A gunman attempted to rob him on Christmas Eve in 2011, but Lou talked the guy out of it. The two took a trip to McDonald’s instead, where they chopped it up about life.
Who is this figure who’s transcended basketball, who has earned the respect of seemingly everyone he’s come across? Who is Lou Will?
“I’m super laid-back,” Williams tells SLAM. “I mind my business. I stay in my own zone. And I do my own thing.”
“Lou is just cool,” explains Andrea Hamilton, his manager. “He has that vibe, that aura. When people are around him, they gravitate toward him. They like his energy. He’s not one of those people walking around flashy. He’s the everyday guy who can go anywhere, talk to anyone, be in rooms with whoever.”
“You know man, he’s just a regular dude,” says Jarrett Jack, who’s been close to Lou for the past 15 years. “One thing that I love about him—he seems like that regular dude that’s just from the neighborhood. Through and through, he’s still a ‘Let me get a 10-piece wings’ guy.”
“He’s your favorite player’s favorite player,” adds Mike Scott, a friend of Lou’s since they were first teammates on the Hawks. “Lou is like an uncle. He’s just cool with everybody and everybody respects him. He’s like an old soul, man. He looks young, but Lou is really, like, 60.”
“He’s Uncle Lou,” says Jordan Clarkson, who played with Williams on the Lakers. “He’s on his own wave, he’s on his own vibe. He’s going to do what he wants to do. I think that’s why people look at him and respect him for who he is.”
“He’s very humble, first and foremost,” describes his longtime trainer Chuck Ellis. “He’s a very loyal person. If you’re in his inner circle, if you’re his family, he’ll do anything he can for you. And he has a big heart—I’ve never seen him tell one fan no about taking a picture or signing an autograph or anything like that.”
As the legend of Lou has grown, the man himself has never switched up. He’s the type of guy who loves to debate, mainly because his core values and beliefs cannot be shaken. He’s stubborn about his ways and constantly tries to impart wisdom. He even has his own little proverbs.
“He’s always got something to tell you or some insight to give you,” Clarkson says. “He for sure got go-to quotes.”
Do you think anyone’s gonna care about this in 15 years? is a popular one.
Over the course of his career, Lou has often deserved a bigger spotlight. He has more than 13,000 total points and has been a major contributor to multiple organizations. This past season, he averaged 20.0 points and 5.4 assists in merely 26.6 minutes.
But Williams doesn’t seek the public eye. He’s barely promoted any of his music and you won’t see him doing many interviews or photo shoots.
“He has always never really cared to get any recognition,” says Hamilton. “Even with us, he doesn’t want to do press, he doesn’t want to do media, he doesn’t want to do anything. I have to force him. I always tell him, ‘You owe me 10 things a year with no pushback. Just give me my 10.’”
Others who’ve come to appreciate his game have made a point of speaking up for him. They understand how great he is and sense that outsiders don’t.
“You can’t just say, ‘I’m gonna stop Lou Williams tonight,’” Kevin Durant told reporters during Golden State’s playoff series against L.A.
“He’s straight buckets,” says Scott. “He’s a professional scorer. You know, he’s not the strongest, he’s not the fastest. But I mean, I can’t explain it.”
No one can, really.
Everyone knows what Lou’s going to do and yet he can’t be stopped. He likes to go left and has certain spots on the floor that he navigates toward. The pace is slow, methodical and intentional. He’s a killer out of the pick-and-roll and has a slight fade to his shot that creates just enough separation. As he dismantles a defense possession after possession, his expression doesn’t waver.
“I’m an assassin,” Williams states. “I’m one of those people that—I’m not really talked about, but everybody knows that I’m there. No matter how many All-Stars are on the floor, I’m going to be one of those guys that’s gonna be talked about as well. There’s a lot of guys that you have to deal with on the frontline, but you know that somewhere, there’s somebody [else] that you got to look out for. I’m that person.”
People with his skill don’t usually come off the bench. As an All-American in high school, Lou opted to bypass college and was the 45th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft by the 76ers. He got the chance to learn under his childhood hero in Allen Iverson, but barely saw the floor. Iverson was soon traded to Denver and Lou’s role gradually increased. He started nearly half the games for Philly during the 2009-10 campaign, before AI—now more like family to Lou—returned to finish his career there.
From then on, Williams has embraced being a reserve.
“My position was kind of weird because I’m coming off the bench, but I’m doing everything career-wise that you would expect from All-Star guys,” says Lou, who passed Dell Curry for the most bench points ever back in March. “So why not embrace it? It’s a different lane. There’s rarely guys that do that. It’s a small group of guys when you mention great six mans.”
His role has been pretty consistent even as he’s changed teams. He signed with his hometown Hawks in 2012, won his first Sixth Man award with the Raptors in 2015, was with the Lakers during Kobe’s 2015-16 farewell tour and spent less than half a season with the Rockets before being hastily dealt to the Clippers in June of 2017.
Within a five-month span, Williams found himself on his third franchise. He’s not one to lack confidence, but questions started to flood his mind. He was visiting China when the trade to the Clippers happened and remembers getting a call around 3 a.m. from his agent. Upon hearing the news, he “cried like a baby.”
“Being on three teams in six months was an eye-opener for me,” Williams says. “Like, maybe I value myself more than other teams value me or the League values me. So I had to look in the mirror like, This is Year 12, you’ve had a pretty good run, you’ve had a pretty good career, are you coming to the end of the road?”
In an ongoing group chat with his teammates from Toronto (DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Chuck Hayes and Amir Johnson), Williams disclosed that he would play one more year—the last on his contract—and then retire.
“Just to be frank, I told those guys, ‘This year in L.A., I’m going to go out with a clear mind and go do what the fuck I want to do and I’m gonna go home,’” he recalls with a smile. “That was my mindset. I was planning my own farewell tour without telling anybody.”
He went to L.A. to do the press conference but really didn’t want to be there (“You can look at my face—I’m holding the jersey like, let’s get this over with”). He planned to leave immediately and was en route to the airport when his phone rang. It was Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, insisting that they meet right away.
The message Doc had for Williams was simple and clear: I don’t know what those other front offices were thinking, but you can get comfortable here. This is going to be home. It was exactly what Lou, who signed a three-year extension in February of 2018, needed to hear.
He’s enjoyed the top two seasons of his career with the Clippers, claiming back-to-back Sixth Man of the Year trophies. Despite not having an All-Star on their roster—although many would argue Lou’s been more than deserving—the team has thrived, primarily because they all get along and love going to battle together. Now they’ll add Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the mix and instantly become serious title contenders, if not the favorite.
Though he’ll be turning 33 in October, Williams feels like he’s right in his prime. He recently came across a list of “The Top 10 Old Guys in the NBA” and was startled to see his name at No. 2, just after LeBron James.
“I was like, Damn, I’m considered one of the old guys.”
Ask those close to him for their most legendary Lou Williams story and you get a wide range of responses.
“Most legendary Lou Will story? I don’t know—the off-the-court ones might not be the ones that could go in [the story],” jokes Jarrett Jack.
There was the time he took Jordan Clarkson to a Waffle House in Atlanta and shut the joint down. They had the whole restaurant to themselves.
Or when he faced off against Mike Scott’s squad in the AEBL—Atlanta’s Pro-Am league—and made a dude fall on his way to another 50-point performance.
Or when he hosted a summer camp in Philly in 2012 even though he knew he wasn’t returning to the 76ers. Rather than cancel and begin his move to Atlanta, Lou stayed an extra month to put on the event.
Piece together all of these anecdotes and you start to get a complete picture of Williams.
On a peaceful Thursday afternoon, he relaxes on the edge of his pool. With the built-in stretch of sand and the mini palm plants, the setting resembles a Florida beach resort more than a backyard in Georgia. It’s quiet now, but there were over 700 people here not too long ago. Remnants of the annual MDW party (Meek, Iverson, Rick Ross, French Montana and James Harden are among the guests who’ve come through) aren’t hard to find. Garbage cans are packed to the brim. An outdoor seat cushion has been ripped up. The cabana has several “RESERVED” labels on it.
Lou is fresh off an incredible season—perhaps his best—but he’ll tell you straight up: He doesn’t care how the overall basketball world remembers him. All that matters is that he has the respect of his peers. That much is undeniable.
“You look at rap, you have your Jay-Zs, you have your Lil Waynes and all of those guys,” Lou says. “And then you have the guys that Lil Wayne and Jay-Z appreciate, like Bun B and Pimp C. Underground Kingz.
“So in basketball you have your GOATS. You’ve got Michael Jordan. You’re going to have LeBron, you’re going to have Kobe, you’re going to have KD. And then you got guys like me who are from the underground, who are the underappreciated, the underdogs.
“I feel like I’m the Underground GOAT. I’m the underground greatest of all time.”
Alex Squadron is an Associate Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @asquad510.
Portraits by Ryan Young.