An Interview with Pat Williams '58

Pat Williams '58 was recently interviewed by The News Journal. Williams, who managed several NBA teams, received the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September 2012. Williams, 72, continues to author books and work the professional-speaking circuit, all the while battling cancer.

Sixers 50 for 50: The Jet didn't soar alone
Written by Jason Wolf, Republished with permission from The News Journal

The legacies of Hall of Fame small forward Chester “Chet the Jet” Walker and former 76ers general manager Pat Williams, the architect of those powerhouse Sixers teams of the late 1970s and early ’80s, were forever intertwined on Sept. 2, 1969.

It was on that day when Williams, a Tower Hill School graduate who was raised in Wilmington, formally accepted an offer to become GM of the financially floundering Chicago Bulls. But the

Sixers, who employed Williams as the team’s business manager at the time, would only release the 29-year-old from his contract on one condition.

He had to take Chet Walker with him.

“Pat was kind of blackmailed,” Walker said. “I don’t know if he wanted me or not. I loved Chicago and played down the road in Peoria [in college]. But there was a question if Pat wanted me.

"Thank God it worked out well.”

Walker started alongside Wilt Chamberlain and Hal Greer on the 1966-67 Sixers team that won a then-record 68 games and the franchise’s first NBA title in Philadelphia. That team, considered by many among the greatest in NBA history, ended the Boston Celtics’ run of eight consecutive NBA titles and defeated the San Francisco Warriors in six games in the finals.

“We played them in the old Convention Hall,” Walker said, recalling the series-clinching victory against the Celtics in the Eastern Division Finals. “And that was absolutely a glorious night. The fans came to their feet, they started screaming, ‘Boston is dead! Boston is dead!’ That was really the championship game.”

But after being ousted from the playoffs by the Celtics each of the next two seasons, Sixers head coach and former GM Jack Ramsay was looking to shake up the roster.

And in an effort to make room for future Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham in the starting lineup, Ramsay fixed his crosshairs directly on Walker.

“Jack had been trying to trade Chet all summer to Chicago for Jimmy Washington,” Williams said in the first of several recent interviews with The News Journal, as he recounted signing, drafting or trading for a majority of the top 10 players in 76ers history.

“He did not think Chet and Billy Cunningham were the best combination. And he couldn’t do it because there was no GM [in Chicago],” Williams said. “There was nobody running the team. But then the Bulls ownership hired me, and Jack’s position was, ‘I’ll let you out of your contract to go to Chicago, but this trade has to take place as part of it.’ So I said, ‘Yes. ... If you let me out,
I’ll make that deal.’ And so we did.”

It was consummated that very same afternoon, in fact.

“I’m sure the Chicago media thought I was a quick worker,” Williams said. “But truth be told, that deal was already set up.”

Walker was a quiet guy, known as a deep thinker and a key cog in the Sixers’ success while playing alongside those giants of basketball in Philadelphia. He already had been selected to three All-Star games at the time of the trade, though none since that magical run to the championship in ’67.

But the eventual seven-time All-Star became the main attraction in Chicago. He was the go-to guy and turned in another six seasons of superb basketball, during which he garnered four additional All-Star nods.

“As a teammate, the team was No. 1,” Cunningham said at Walker’s Hall of Fame enshrinement. “He sacrificed so much of his talents that you later saw when he went to Chicago. ... It truly was an honor to play behind him on the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s a special man.”

Walker was one of the original 76ers.

The 6-foot-6 forward played six seasons with the Sixers and one with their predecessor, the Syracuse Nationals. He averaged a double-double in his first season in Philadelphia and 18.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists over his 13-year pro career.

Walker made an immediate impact once the Nationals selected him out of Bradley with the 12th overall pick in the second round of the 1962 draft. He was named to the 1963 All-Rookie first team before the Nationals moved to Philadelphia and became the Sixers the following offseason.

“He was a great offensive player, really,” Williams said, “and perfected the head-and-shoulder fake on the baseline. And no matter how many years he was in the league, defenders never did get used to it or adjust to that patented head-and-shoulder fake. He would go up and get fouled almost every time. It was just remarkable. He made a career of that for 13 years.”

Walker, now 72, went on to a career as an Emmy Award-winning television movie producer. He published his memoirs in 1995.

Williams, also now 72, rejuvenated the Bulls, which more than doubled their attendance figures under his watch. He left in 1973 to become the GM in Atlanta for one year before taking the reins in Philadelphia, where he remained for 12 seasons. His fingerprints are all over the Sixers teams that advanced to four NBA finals and won the championship in 1983, the most recent in team history. He later went on to co-found the Orlando Magic and is currently their senior vice president.

Williams and his wife, Ruth, have 19 children, including 14 they adopted. He is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for an aggressive bone marrow cancer.

Williams and Walker saw their forever intertwined legacies come full circle just a few months ago.

“This past September, I was honored with the John Bunn lifetime achievement award by the Hall of Fame,” Williams said. “And who gets inducted into the Hall of Fame that same day? None other than Chet Walker – after all these years. And it was richly deserved.”

“It was a happy ending that occurred for both of us,” Walker said.