"I see myself a little bit in him," Sacramento Kings point guard
Jason Williams was saying of the Utah Jazz's John Stockton in
the quiet visitors' locker room at the Delta Center last
Saturday. "The way he's willing to do anything he can to help
his team, I hope I'm a little bit like that."
From the beginning of this truncated season Kings coach Rick
Adelman has brought up Stockton in discussing Williams, hoping
that the 37-year-old Stockton would serve as a humbling role
model for the rookie from Florida. It was important that
Williams remain levelheaded. He had arrived on the NBA scene in
February like an electric fan blowing out the stale air of the
lockout. He was ingenious, fun, even Chaplinesque: hiding the
ball behind his back, inventing slapstick layups for his
teammates on the run and refusing to take himself seriously. He
was White Chocolate or the Thrilla in Vanilla, a 23-year-old
white kid from Belle, W.Va., with a hip-hop game.
In this light it was easy to emphasize Williams's good work and
its consequences--for example, that fast-breaking Sacramento was
the only team to average triple figures (100.2) in the regular
season--and never mind that the Kings were last in the league
defensively (100.6 points allowed per game). He was also one of
the main reasons Sacramento reached the playoffs, where sharp
and experienced Utah would provide a harsh test. Williams was
encouraged that in all three of the teams' regular-season
meetings the Kings had forced the Jazz into overtime, winning
once. An hour before Saturday's opening tip, the Kings seemed as
carefree and optimistic as, well, a Williams bounce pass on the
run through heavy traffic. "I don't really ever get nervous,"
Williams said. "I get a few butterflies right when they're
introducing our names, but when they throw the ball up, I'm out
there playing, and it doesn't matter who it's against."
Not even in this case? The playoff game would be the 148th for
Stockton, the NBA's alltime leader in assists and steals. It
would be Williams's first. "I guess I'm kind of lucky to get
here in my rookie year," Williams said.
It was to be a drawn-out lesson for a player who likes to think
on his feet. After just 2:48, Sacramento trailed by 10. Williams
responded with successive three-pointers from 23, 24 and 26
feet--the last on a bank shot--but the opening moments of a
playoff game aren't well suited for desperation. While Stockton
and Williams chased each other like alley cats, the big
difference was in their eyes. Stockton's were focused narrowly;
he seemed to know exactly where he was headed. Williams's were
wide open; he seemed to be exploring at half speed, seeking a
pathway that hadn't been cut off by Stockton and the
sophisticated Jazz defense. The three regular-season games had
been nothing like this one. Utah won 117-87.
Williams finished with 11 points, two assists and two turnovers
in 26 minutes. "I can't say it was fun for me," he said. Then he
added, with the optimism of youth, "We put our shoes and socks
on the same way they do. I don't see why we can't play the way
Time had been the greatest difference between Williams and
Stockton. Only one of them had played as if he had precious
little of it left.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO