RIP Chris Williams
By Matt McQuade
This morning the Sydney Kings received the terrible news that one of the club’s favourite sons, former import forward Chris Williams, had passed away in the United States at just 36 years of age.
Chris spent only one year in Sydney, but the impact he made on both the franchise and everyone he was associated with was nothing short of extraordinary.
It’s not often that a one season player is included in any list of greatest-ever players for a franchise, but Williams deserves a spot just on the basis of his remarkable exploits for the purple and gold during the team’s historic first championship season in 2002/2003. There is no argument that he is at the very least one of the three best single-season imports this country has ever seen.
An absolute gentleman off the court, loved by all, he was a fearsome competitor on the floor, blessed with remarkable talent and an enormous will to win.
Recruited by Brett Brown just before he left for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and prior to Brian Goorjian taking the reins at the Kings, the 6’7” Williams had a terrific career at the University of Virginia, playing against NBA-level talent almost every night as part of the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference, but he still came to Australia in 2002 as a relative unknown.
However, it didn’t take long for the lithe, deceptively strong forward to make an impression. In a preseason game at Sutherland, the Kings took on NCAA Division One college Texas Christian University, and right from the outset it was obvious that Sydney had a sublime talent on their hands. Some good judges even declared right then and there that Williams was a future league MVP.
The preseason form was no mirage. From the beginning of the 2002/2003 regular season, Chris turned the league into his personal playground. Playing mainly at the four spot alongside a burgeoning superstar in Matthew Nielsen, he presented a low post puzzle that no team ever solved.
Williams was as automatic a basket, once he got the ball in the block, as anyone who has ever played basketball in this country. While not quite in the Leon Trimmingham class athletically, he still had great hops and tremendous footwork, and he was good for at least one jaw-dropping highlight every game.
In the season opener in Townsville he tore the Crocodiles apart, going for 24 points, 16 rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. And that was just a taste of things to come as he dominated the regular season like few men ever have in NBL history.
Every night, he was the ultimate stat-filler, putting up numbers in each offensive and defensive category – points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots. You name it – Chris would provide it for his team. And he did it all in a highly efficient manner.
On January 18, 2003, he became only one of four Sydney players ever to record a triple double in a game, going for 34 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists in a big win over the West Sydney Razorbacks. By the time the playoffs rolled around, teams were helpless against him.
He led the Kings to an opening series win over Andrew Gaze and the Melbourne Tigers, helping Sydney to dominate Game Three at the Kingdome with a near triple double, tallying 25 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and five steals.
Then in the close-out Game Three against Townsville in the semi-finals, he was just as imposing, going for 31 points and 18 rebounds as the purple and gold destroyed the Crocs to reach their first Grand Final series in franchise history.
And in the two game Grand Final sweep of the Perth Wildcats, Chris was his usual unstoppable self, tallying 26 points, 15 rebounds and four steals in Sydney’s remarkable comeback win at the Kingdome before producing 24 points, six rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots as the Kings annihilated the Wildcats in Perth’s Challenge Stadium to capture the team’s historic first NBL crown.
When the 2002/2003 season was over, he had joined an exclusive group of players who have won both the regular season and Grand Final Series Most Valuable Player award. He was named First Team All-NBL, won NBL Player of the Month twice and finished in the top ten of the league in an astounding seven statistical categories (points, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, total rebounds, steals, blocked shots and field goal percentage).
But one thing that was really interesting about Chris was that as spectacular as he was, and as dominating as he could be, he was at heart an unassuming individual who just wanted to win. Above all else, he was perhaps the most unselfish superstar to ever play for the Sydney Kings.
His loss has hit the entire Sydney Kings family very hard, including Sydney Kings Legend Shane ‘The Hammer’ Heal, who captained that first championship team.
“I’m so sad in hearing this terrible news,” Shane said.
“Chris was one of my favourite teammates of all time. He was an incredible player and I will always remember the title we shared and the great times we had off the court. Rest in peace brother.”
Matthew Nielsen, another Sydney Kings Legend and the all-time leader in games played for the Kings, remembers a player who fit into the team very easily.
“Chris was such a great guy to be around,” he said.
“He had a very dry sense of humour and always had something funny to say.”
“For a 22 year old kid to come out to Australia and assimilate so quickly, be one of the boys and fit in to the group so easily – that was his strength and what made him so amazing to be around.”
“As a player, obviously he wasn’t very tall, and he wasn’t a very good shooter, but he saw the game a bit better than most. His ability to use time and space was his greatest strength, and it was amazing what he was able to accomplish with the tool set that he had.”
“I’ve played with hundreds of guys along the way in my career, and unfortunately a lot of those relationships are short and sweet. But I’ve said throughout my life that I never played with a better American than Chris.”
“He was a great, great guy, and it’s a real shame that we’ve lost him.”
Brad Rosen, who was Sydney’s assistant coach in the 2002/2003 season, remembers Williams with fondness.
“Chris was a complete professional,” Brad said.
“On the basketball side of things he was just a freak. He had the ability to get to the rim and make great decisions. He’s easily one of the best imports I have seen who could adapt so quickly to a new league.”
“And while he was pretty quiet, he really was a lovely guy. His work ethic was incredible and he was a fantastic guy to have on our team.”
BJ Carter was a development player on that 2002/2003 squad, and had a special relationship with Chris.
“My favourite memory of Chris is that before every single home game, he and I had a ritual to play one on one. We were both only 22 years old at the time, so I got to see the relaxed ‘kid’ in him before games, then see him flick a switch at tip-off and turn into a superstar, “ he reflected.
“He had all the time in the world as a player. He was never rushed. He seemed to beat his man with ease and although he had the ugliest of ugly jump shots, he was one of the most all-round complete players I’ve ever played with.”
“Hands down Chris is the most talented import I’ve ever played with; however, he was an even better bloke. If I can speak for all his teammates and those that knew him, this is truly sad news. He may be lost, but the great memories he leaves live on in his teammates.”
Had Chris stayed longer in the NBL, we would be talking about him as one of the greatest of all time in the league, as it is, he’s still one of the best ever to put on a Sydney Kings uniform.
Chris ‘C-Dub’ Williams will always be remembered for what he accomplished in this city, and what he meant to the Sydney Kings and the National Basketball League.
A wonderful man and a great ballplayer taken way too soon. Rest in peace Big Smooth.
6’7” Forward, 2002-2003
Nicknames: C-Dub; Big Smooth
Player Number: 33
Games Played for Kings: 38
Career Stats: 23.6ppg, 12.1rpg, 4.3apg, 2.1spg, 1.3bpg, 53.4% FG
NBL Most Valuable Player 2003
NBL Grand Final Series Most Valuable Player 2003
First Team All-NBL 2003
Starter on the Sydney Kings all-time 25th season anniversary team