Williams Leaves The Sixers Laughing

Posted: June 20, 1986

Pat Williams' trademark - a hair-trigger sense of humor - was in evidence yesterday as he formally announced that he was leaving the 76ers' organization after 12 years of service.

Williams, who had served as the Sixers' vice president and general manager,

thanked everyone with whom he had been associated in his tenure with the franchise, saving special thanks for team owner Harold Katz.

He said that he wanted to give the hard-driving Katz something that had symbolized their association over the last five years.

"However," Williams said, "I could not get my ulcer framed."

Then Williams reached into a brown paper bag and presented Katz with a Mickey Mouse doll, which also served to point out where Williams will begin a new career on Monday.

Williams, who appeared at a news conference in Orlando, Fla., home of Disney World, yesterday morning before flying back to Philadelphia for his farewell, has been named the president of Orlando Pro Basketball Inc., a corporation formed with the intent of establishing a National Basketball Association expansion team in central Florida by 1988.

John Nash, the Sixers' assistant general manager, is expected to succeed Williams as their general manager.

"The front-runner now, without a doubt or any question, is John Nash," Katz said. "We haven't sat down and made our deal."

Katz indicated that the new general manager would be named in the next few days, depending on the length of the negotiations.

In response to a question about how long his talks with Nash would take, Katz, showing off his sense of humor, said: "Not long. John knows me. I'll say, 'This is it,' and he'll say, 'Yes.' If I'd said that to Pat, he'd say, 'No.' "

Katz conceded that he and Williams had not always agreed, but he said it was untrue that he would not have renewed Williams' contract, which was due to expire on June 30, if the Orlando offer hadn't come along.

"It never got down to a stage where Pat and I had to negotiate," he said, ''because Pat came to me months ago and told me, 'They're (the Orlando group) throwing this at me.' We're the odd couple - the all-time odd couple. We didn't always see eye to eye. He did a hell of a job for me for five years."

There were times during those years when Williams' future didn't appear secure.

Williams was lauded for going out and getting Julius Erving in 1976, but when Katz purchased the team in 1981, the Sixers had become known as the NBA's bridesmaids. With all of the high-salaried talent Williams had brought in, the NBA title had eluded the Sixers. It was said that, four years ago, Katz was unhappy about his team's high payroll and lengthy contracts.

Apparently, the 1983 NBA championship took the edge off that anger.

Yesterday, it seemed as if Katz and Williams were the best of friends.

Williams said that he never was given any indication that his contract would not be renewed. He said that he and Katz simply had not gotten around to talking about it before the Orlando offer appeared.

"We hadn't started on that," Williams said. "There was no real strain or

pressure there."

Nash was being groomed to be the Sixers' general manager, however, according to Katz.

The tempestuous owner, although he virtually committed himself to hiring Nash, hinted that he might take a glance at "one or two" other candidates. In any event, he seemed intent on filling the position quickly.

"It certainly isn't a cut-and-dried situation right now," said Nash, pointing to the pending contract negotiations. "I think I'm ready to do the job, but there are many other people out there who are qualified."

In his 18-year NBA career, Williams has built a reputation as a problem- solver, a master promoter and an organizer, but he has also built a equally big reputation as a carnival barker.

After serving one year as the Sixers' business manager, Williams went to the Chicago Bulls as general manager in 1969 and helped elevate the Bulls' attendance from 3,700 to more than 10,000 a game. During the 1973-74 season, he served in the same capacity with the Atlanta Hawks, whose attendance also rose. On August 6, 1974, Irv Kosloff, then the Sixers' owner, brought Williams back to Philadelphia as the team's general manager.

Williams has been best at getting wounded franchises on their feet. Once they were standing, things didn't always go as well.

The Sixers were fresh off their infamous 9-73 season of 1972-73 when Williams arrived on the scene.

"Pat likes down situations," his wife, Jill, said in 1975, when the Sixers started to regain their footing. "And now he's got something that's a little up. We're just holding our breath."

Williams brought fans into the house in Chicago, but in his last year there, the announced attendance was 10,365 a game but the team lost $1.7 million. The next season, the Bulls drew only 8,151 per game but slashed the ticket giveaways drastically and reduced their losses by 50 percent.

It was said that his penchant for freebies also drew the wrath of the Hawks' management.

Williams long will be remembered for his gimmickry.

Early in his stint with the Sixers, on Nov. 20, 1974, Williams presented Pepper, the Singing Pig. But Pepper met with an accident before the show, and his understudy, Chick, only squealed.

With all of the gimmicks, Williams can be credited with maintaining the stability of the Sixers' franchise over the last decade. By stockpiling draft choices in the 1970s, he has kept the Sixers in the hunt for NBA championships.

Charles Barkley, the team's brightest star of the future, came as a result of one of those stockpiled picks and, despite the Sixers' forfeiture of three first-round selections on Tuesday, the franchise should remain competitive for several more years because of extra first-round choices.

"From 1976 until today and, I think, for another 10 years, the Sixers will be competitive," Williams said yesterday. "That's 20 years. In basketball, it's very difficult to stay among the league's best for two straight years."

comments powered by Disqus