An era of basketball is slowly wilting and dying away.
Maybe that is a good thing. The post-Jordan 1990s and early 2000s was a time of slow, drag-it-out games that devolved into one-on-one showcases and flashy, but inefficient play. A basketball culture or counter-culture or whatever you want to call it snuck into the game and turned off the casual fan.
The West became dominant as the East’s general managers could not figure out how to attract free agents or spend money wisely. it was a time where the contracts were large, just about every player wanted to score and the league was coming out of the shadow of a giant.
The players that defined this era are slowly beginning to fade out as a new generation takes over.
Jason Williams may have been someone to help define that era. Yes, he was a journeyman point guard who was never an All Star and averaged just 10.5 points per game and 5.9 assists per game, but he helped define an era of basketball. And now that era is ending with the anouncement of Jason Williams’ retirement Tuesday.
Williams hit the scene with the Kings and almost began a revolution in what it meant to be a point guard. Where John Stockton was about incredible efficiency and dishing the ball and Kevin Johnson was about the athletic potential that could be present in the position, the Williams and Allen Iverson mold of point guard was a different breed. They were about flash and style more than substance.
It did not matter how many games they won, it only mattered what the ESPN highlights could show and the (eventual) YouTube clips that would be. It is why these two players mattered even long after the league had changed its demeanor and their skills had slowly eroded.
Iverson is an all-time great. Very few players in the league can score the way he did for several years. His popularity was very clearly shown when he was voted into the All-Star Game in 2010 while playing for Detroit.
Williams was all flash early in his career where he made a reputation for the dramatic. The simple chest pass was never enough for J-Will. No, it was not a good pass unless it was around the back, off the back board, or off one-handed bounces. There have been other players that have had the court vision of Williams and were able to see the angles like Williams could, but few did it in the burgeoning world of ESPN.
Yes, Williams’ popularity was very much a reflection of the rise of SportsCenter and ESPN and the highlight culture that came with it. He was a glorification of what looked good more than what could win. And Sacramento realized that.
After three seasons, the Kings shipped him to the Grizzlies in 2001. They acquired Mike Bibby and became a title contender almost immediately.
Williams though transformed. This transformation might have been why Williams continued to stick in the league up until this year and won a championship with the Heat in 2006.
Hubie Brown found a way to reign in Williams a bit in Memphis. He found a point guard with incredible vision, a point guard with a sweet shooting stroke and a point guard who would protect the ball. He was the starting point guard when the Grizzlies went to their first postseason.
But Williams always had that little spice. And it would show up every once in a while as he would throw a crazy pass through an incredibly tiny hole at just the right moment to just the right player. In the open court, he was still exciting to watch.
Williams is always going to be remembered for the style he brought to the game his first three years in the league and he will indelibly be one of the faces for his NBA generation.