This local sports legend just retired, and he’s taking us on a walk down memory lane in his career and his family life.
When the Orlando Magic begins their 31st season in the National Basketball Association in 2019-2020, they’ll do so for the first time without one of their patriarchs, Pat Williams. As senior vice president and co-founder of the organization, Williams recently announced his retirement from the Orlando Magic after more than 50 years in the NBA.
His basketball career began in 1968 with the Philadelphia 76ers. It has included stints with the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks before returning to Philadelphia, where he helped the franchise win the 1983 NBA Championship.
Williams left the 76ers in 1986 and began focusing on promoting and marketing a then under-dog effort in Orlando to earn the rights to a professional basketball team. In an exclusive interview with Central Florida Lifestyle, Williams considers the confirmation of the NBA choosing Orlando as one of his greatest highlights during his long-tenured career in professional sports.
“It started with a hope, a dream, a wing and a prayer,” he says. “There was no skyline, the airport was really poor, no Universal Studios, no Animal Kingdom, no big convention center. So to get the NBA’s attention and have them agree to put a team here when they made their decision in April of 1987 would be tied right at the top along with winning the NBA title in 1983, which of course is the ultimate goal of anyone in sports.”
A Look Back
Starting an expansion franchise is just one of the many feats in a seemingly exponential list of professional accomplishments achieved by Williams. Those who may not recall the birth of the franchise, and arguably the creation of the Central Florida sports scene, may recall Williams as the sole representative of the team when the Magic earned the rights to the first overall draft pick at the NBA Draft on three separate occasions.
“Life just slowed down, almost to a standstill as those three events unfolded,” he recalled while reflecting on those fortuitous lottery selections in 1992, 1993 and 2004. “Those were golden moments.”
Although winning the lottery itself was an important aspect, making the proper draft selections was an even more pivotal task facing Williams and other Magic brass. In 1992, the draft rights to NBA Hall of Fame center, Shaquille O’Neal, were all but a foregone conclusion. However, when Orlando defied the odds by winning the lottery again in 1993, the same could not be said.
Shortly after the Magic selected Michigan star Chris Webber with the first overall pick in 1993, it was Williams who was tasked with facing an ecstatic and perhaps over-served fanbase at the Orlando Arena to explain the impending announcement that would soon be made by then-NBA-commissioner, David Stern. That Orlando had traded the draft rights of Webber to the Golden State Warriors for the draft rights of a little-known guard from Memphis State, Penny Hardaway.
“Our fans wanted nothing of it,” Williams remembers. “They were angry. They were rabidly angry. They thought we’d completely lost our minds. All I could think to say was ‘You’re booing now, but this season you’ll be cheering.’”
As is often the case, the foresight Williams had was spot on, as Shaq and Penny instantaneously became one of the NBA’s most dynamic duos during their time in Central Florida. That is just one of a plethora of examples of his unrivaled foresight – a strength that carried him through much more than 50+ years of NBA experience.
Life Outside the Arena
His mind is also credited with authoring 110 books to date, with plans for more coming out as recently as the end of 2019. When asked to narrow his choice of one book for his fans to read, Williams selected his most recent work, “Character Carved in Stone,” which details 12 character traits carved in stone benches on the campus of West Point.
“These words are meant to inspire, motivate and really encourage the current cadets who are up there to live their life and lead by those 12 principles,” Williams says.
His passion for writing stems from his passion for reading.
“The best advice I can give to anybody is the importance of reading,” Williams says. “That muscle inside your cranium is truly a muscle. It weighs two and half to three pounds – it’s about the size of cantaloupe – and it needs exercise to be fully efficient. The best way I know to exercise it is to attach a book to it.”
His successes in the office as well as on paper pale in comparison to his accomplishments within his own walls. Williams has 19 children — four biological, 14 adopted and one through re-marriage. His oldest is now 47; the youngest is 33. As of now, there are 17 grandchildren with another expected in August.
“It’s not a normal family in any stretch of the imagination,” Williams says. “The adopted children came in a 10-year period from 1983 to 1993 and are from four foreign countries: South Korea, The Philippines, Romania and Brazil.”
Holidays are special times within the Williams household. Although not every family member is able to make it to each, Christmas remains among the most popular.
“We may have as may as 50 to 60 people there, but that’s the one time of year,” he says. “The rest of the year they are all into their own facets of life, but we can deal with it for a few days around then.”
What’s Next for Williams
Though Williams may be retiring from one profession, his retirement plans sound like nothing of the sort. First, he’ll be working toward opening the Pat Williams Leadership Library at First Baptist Church Orlando, which will house close to 30,000 books that he has collected. It will be part museum, too.
“We’re working with the church to really establish that library along with all of my sports memorabilia,” Williams says. “It’s going to demand an awful lot of my time and attention, but right now that’s the number one item on my checklist. If I don’t get on this and make it happen, it’s not going to happen.”
It’s safe to assume this must-do attitude helped Williams and business partner Jimmy Hewitt market and ultimately succeed in landing a professional sports team in Central Florida in the mid-80s as well as inspiring his continuing love for people and passion for books.