This is a weird place to go, what with the Joy of Darren Collison, the Horror of Lance Stephenson, the Farewell of Troy Murphy, and the Potential Moves of (Insert Player Here) that I’ve been spending ample time thinking about former Pacers PG Micheal Williams. There’s more than enough to look at in regards to this current Pacers squad that I shouldn’t spend so much time trying to truly grasp the value of a 24-year-old ten day contract who usurped the starting position from stalwart Pacers veteran Vern Fleming twenty years ago, but alas, I can’t shake the thought, because it seems like something is awry. Why don’t we put more stock into the short time Williams spent in Indiana?
Up until signing with the Pacers in August 1990, Williams had bounced around, been signed to one-year deals that weren’t upheld past two weeks and ten day contracts that turned into season long jobs. He even found time to pick up a ring with the Pistons. The 1990-91 Pacers season was a strange saga in and of itself, with the firing of Dick Versace that turned into a playoff berth under Bob Hill, which led to Indiana pushing the Boston Celtics to the brink of elimination in the NBA’s most exciting first round series. At least until the Celtics allowed another upstart young Midwestern team to take them on in 2009.
And that’s particularly where my fascination with Micheal comes, in his coming out party against Brian Shaw and the Celtics, where Williams shredded the parquet to the tune of 21 points and 8 assists, in addition to three steals in the exciting five games series, being the team’s most consistent outlet, a huge X-factor to help out Chuck Person’s big mouth and Reggie Miller’s general inexperience.
The Pacers ultimately fell to one of Larry Legend’s most heroic feats: a hobbled back that allowed Mr. Bird the privilege of leading a Willis Reed "We’re really screwed no matter what he actually does, aren’t we?" return in Game 5. Watching Williams in this series is a joy. Not only does he show tremendous explosion to the basket, leaving more than one Celtic scratching their head, but showed wonderful tenacity on the defensive end and in his ability to find his teammates amidst the sizeable front court of Boston.
Even still, it’s not like Williams was a one hit wonder. As the Pacers stormed to a strong finish to pull out a .500 record and the playoff spot against Boston, Williams was becoming one of the league’s most intriguing new faces, a much needed compliment to the three headed Person-Miller-Schrempf monster. To follow up his series against Boston, Micheal had his career year in 1991-92, averaging 15.1 PPG, 8.2 APG, and 2.9 SPG. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team, and even performed well in the Pacers sweep at the hand of the Celtics in the 1992 Playoffs.
But in September of that summer, Micheal Williams was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves along with Chuck Person. The trade of Person, relieving one’s self of the baggage Person brought, in addition to opening up more of a prominent role for Miller and Schrempf made sense, as it would if Williams was a necessity to move Person. But Walsh coveted the talents of Pooh Richardson, who had broken out himself with the Timberwolves, despite baggage of his own.
Richardson would have a middling season and a half with the Pacers while Williams set the NBA record for consecutive free throws, stripping the title from a cocky Calvin Murphy, who truly believed his record was that of Joe DiMaggio proportions (when asked whether Mark Price choked one shot short of the record, Murphy responded, "I don’t want to use that word, but the shot speaks for itself. I can’t believe it missed that badly."). Williams succumbed to injuries after 1994, as Richardson was flipped around for Mark Jackson in 1994. In a long term sense, the Pacers came out ahead, but it still doesn’t explain why we aren’t more akin to praising the skill set of Micheal Williams, who was one of the league’s more respected PGs during the 1991-92 season.
It is true that winning creates legacies, but without winning, we remember the Rifleman. We remember Schrempf. Some of us even remember Greg Dreiling. But why have we forgotten about Micheal Williams? Since when did we take 15-8 from our PG for granted? In his short time, Williams still sits in the top 20 for assists and steals in the Pacers’ NBA era, still in the top five for his performances in 1991-92 in those categories as well as one of the franchise’s surest free throw shooters. While it’s true Indiana has generally been a stopgap franchise for PGs since joining the NBA, Micheal Williams may be one of the best stopgaps in franchise history. I’d say that at least deserves some attention, some sort of remembrance. At the very least, I'll go ahead and remember him.