You may be the most willing student of the game, listen to every piece of advice given but nothing can fully prepare you for the intensity and the speed of an NBA game. That’s why we love hearing about players’ “welcome to the NBA” moments. But having that moment with Michael Jordan? That’s just bad luck.
Walt Willams was of that (lack of) fortune. To make it even more dramatic, Williams had signed with the Kings that day and flew out to the last preseason game. Without knowing any plays or having any sort of chemistry with the team, Williams played his first minutes in an NBA jersey.
Keeping it simple, Walt found himself in a basic 3-2 pick and roll with Mitch Richmond. Your ordinary pick & pop – the Kings anticipated the Bulls would switch, so as the ball handler, Williams was supposed to pass it to Richmond for an easy shot.
“But when I want off the pick, I just kinda’ looked and I said ‘Oh man, I got an ISO right here against Jordan.’ If I score on him, I can call my boys and let them know I scored on Jordan. So I waved Mitch off, broke the play, and tried to do my ISO. I came right at Jordan with my patented crossover, right to left crossover.”Walt Williams, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network
Think about it for a second – if you’re facing the GOAT in the making, you’d probably try and take him with your go-to move, right? The move you’re most comfortable with, the one you pulled off hundreds of times. As Walt learned the hard way, that’s a bad idea.
“Jordan stole that thing, went down, and did his emblem dunk. When he ran back down, he tapped me on the butt and said ‘We watch film up here, baby. I knew you was gonna do that fake-ass crossover.‘”Walt Williams, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network
The good old days when star players played intense preseason minutes, huh? It’s not just the fact the Bulls were watching film for a preseason game. As Walt pointed out – he had just signed with the Kings that day. It probably wasn’t even in the papers he was playing that day. That means MJ watched film without any scouting on Williams.
“I don’t know if they anticipated they knew I was going to play in that preseason game, but he knew certain things I would do out there, for sure.”Walt Williams, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network
Even one of the most athletic players in the world wasn’t great on defense because of his quick-twitch muscles – no one is that fast. Good defense is about knowing tendencies, anticipating moves, and seeing things in advance. But the fact MJ was watching college games and flagged Williams’ go-to move somewhere in his mind AND then was able to pull that from his memory and know what’s about the happen in a preseason game tells the story of his most underappreciated asset – his basketball intelligence. Gilbert Arenas once described Allen Iverson like this.
“You know that one white boy on every team, who has no talent but goes balls out every day? That was [AI’s] mentality, but he was a star. Diving in the stands, he just never stopped. He was trying to score 60 every game”Gilbert Arenas, via Fubo Sports
MJ worked like “that one white boy on every team, who has no talent but goes balls out every day,” except he had all the talent and athleticism in the world. That’s why he’s the GOAT.