Sporting a practice T-shirt and uniform shorts, Shawne Williams is sitting in front of his locker, less than an hour before a recent tipoff between the New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies, telling several Knicks representatives about Memphis, the town in which he grew up.
He’s telling them, among other things, about his days of playing pick-up basketball games in the crime and drug-infested neighborhood of South Memphis. He’s speaking of how the National Civil Rights Museum—formerly the Lorraine Motel—has become a significant landmark to a city where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was last seen alive. He’s reminding them that Memphis is home to the renowned Graceland mansion and late Rock ‘N Roll icon Elvis Presley.
“I grew up like a few houses from (Graceland),” Williams said. “You can’t compare Memphis to New York. It’s a totally different world. It’s a large city. It’s a great stage to play on.”
For Williams, a former Hamilton High phenom who starred one season at the University of Memphis in 2005-06, the 25-year-old, three-year pro apparently isn’t suffering from stage fright, given he’s exhibiting his skills in the NBA’s largest market. Williams, to his credit, has proven to be an asset to the Knicks’ much-anticipated resurgence this season.
New York is currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff standings, in part because the 6'9" Williams has emerged as one of coach the Mike D’Antoni’s key reserves since signing with the team back in September. Williams is currently eighth on the team in minutes played with 19.7 per contest through 47 games, and seventh in points per game with 6.9. He has started five games for the Knicks, his most productive outing coming in a January 12 loss at Utah when he scored a season-best 25 points in 34 minutes.
“I’m glad he’s here with us,” D’Antoni said of Williams. “We’re glad to have him.”
And Williams, as he puts it, deems himself “fortunate” that Knicks president of basketball operations Donnie Walsh believed in him enough to grant him a third chance to resurrect a career that was mired by a slew of off-the-court issues in recent years.
In September 2007, Williams, along with two other passengers in his car, were arrested in Indianapolis and on a charge of possession of marijuana. A stolen handgun that belonged to one of the passengers also was found in Williams’ vehicle. The other passenger was charged with possession of marijuana.
Then early last year, Williams encountered another run-in with the law when he was arrested in Memphis on felony charges for selling a codeine substance, a charge that was eventually reduced to a misdemeanor three months later after he pleaded guilty. Placed on six months’ probation, Williams was ordered to undergo mandatory drug testing, attend a drug offender school and contribute $10,000 to a local drug treatment facility.
Many, in fact, believed that Williams—who was drafted 17th overall by Indiana in 2006—had played his last game in the NBA after he was waived by the New Jersey Nets four days following his arrest in Memphis. It was, after all, a situation about which he admittedly felt embarrassed, considering youngsters whom looked up to him began questioning whether he would ever play professionally again.
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“To be honest, I knew that was going to get back (into the NBA),” said Williams, who also played one season in Dallas. “I felt like the light switch came on when my nieces and nephews got curious about me not playing. They were like, ‘"Shawne, when are going to see you play again."’ I didn’t want to lie to them. What that did really was want me to set an example for them. I wanted to give them a chance to see me play.”
As Williams got his legal troubles under control, his chances of resurfacing in the NBA became a strong possibility.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who coached Williams at Memphis, called close friend and then—Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown, to arrange for Williams to attend a free-agent mini-camp with the team during the 2010 Orlando summer league. He didn’t disappoint, considering he was eventually offered training camp invitations from the Bobcats and Knicks a couple of months later.
The Knicks, consequently, wound up being Williams’ sentimental choice to continue his career since Madison Square Garden was the last place his older brother, Ramone—who was murdered before Williams turned pro—saw him play.
He said that while his off-the-court misfortunes were self-manufactured, his time away from the NBA prompted him to assess his poor judgment and decision-making. Williams, in fact, describes himself as a “changed man” nowadays, primarily because he was fortunate to have been given another chance fulfill his dream.
“I’m just happy to have this opportunity to showcase my talents in New York,” Williams said. “They gave me an opportunity to do what I wanted to do in life and that was to play (basketball). I knew I needed to change my ways. I feel I’m doing well now. (New York) is a large city, a great stage to play on.”
Not to mention, a platform where he is fully embracing the golden opportunity this time around.
Andre Johnson is a freelance sports reporter for The Memphis Commercial Appeal and Memphis Sport Magazine. To reach him, call 901-690-6587 or send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.