by Paul Schmidt
The news came down with little fanfare, something that puzzled me greatly. On top of all of that, very little has been written of what has to be considered a fairly bizarre story.
The headlines read: Hoops star Frank Williams, brother arrested: Drug agents seize marijuana, handgun.
Specifically, the agents seized 78 grams of marijuana (about 3 ounces, to the initiated), one .40 caliber handgun (unregistered) and a digital scale, which one can assume was used to weigh out the marijuana. Reportedly there were prescription drugs also in the home.
Frank Williams, and presumably his brother Aaron as well, were dealing drugs. Allegedly.
To those comments, I have to ask, “Why?”
I know that we’ve come to expect less and less of our athletes in this culture, but this really surprised me. Maybe because I have interviewed Frank on two different occasions, I have a different opinion of him than most. I’m not sure.
The majority of people that I know that are Illinois fans view Frank Williams as an cocky, overconfident athlete who never reached the potential that he could have had he been a more hard-working individual. They point to his uneven junior season at Illinois, his poor performance with the New York Knicks, and, when the hometown Bulls rescued him and gave him a chance, the fact that he showed up overweight and out of shape.
I saw a young man who had the hopes of a basketball insane university heaped on his shoulders after winning the Big Ten Player of the Year and Chicago Tribune Silver Basketball in 2001 after his sophomore season. I saw a young man who was starting to come into his own as an NBA point guard in the 03-04 season, who was pushed to the end of the bench when his team’s overmatched GM, Isaiah Thomas, made an unbelievably ill-advised trade to acquire Stephon Marbury.
And I saw a man who was still something of a kid, a little bit immature, but a little more unsure of just where he fit in to the scheme of things with the Bulls, especially personality-wise. I found it telling in the post-game locker room that not one player or coach said a single word to him at any point until we walked out of the room together.
When I spoke with him when he was with the Bulls, he admitted that he should have worked harder to be in shape for the Bulls but that he had learned his lesson. He seemed surprisingly soft-spoken, almost shy, which was surprising because it certainly not what I’d expected or what I had heard about him while he was at Illinois. It seemed as though maybe his experiences in New York Knicks had humbled him somewhat.
I spoke to Williams again after he had been injured, and he seemed determined to get healthy again. Again, he could have been completely blowing smoke at me, but I didn’t really have a positive impression of the young man prior, so him convincing me wasn’t some incidence of hero worship – I was honestly surprised to see that he was so…quiet.
This is why the story surprised me. He was still playing basketball well – albeit in the NBA Developmental league (where he averaged 17 points and 3-plus assists per game). He was, at one point, the best player in the Big Ten. He was a former first round draft pick, and at least signed a second contract (meaning he had made millions of dollars in the NBA already).
He should have been able to live comfortably with that kind of money.
Perhaps that is why he (allegedly) turned to dealing drugs, the constant need of this society to live to excess. To always want more. Perhaps that was how he would finally fit into society, to be a “baller”, so to speak. To have more than everyone else. To win at the proverbial game of life by getting more stuff.
That’s merely speculation, though, me trying to make sense of how this young man went from millionaire to alleged small-time drug dealer. It’s a story that doesn’t make sense, even if no one else is surprised.
I’m hoping, for Frank’s sake, that there is some sort of an explanation.
Given the way these things usually go, I’m not holding my breath.