In the late 1970s and early 1980s, few, if any, guards could match the greatness of Gus Williams.
From 1978 to 1985, Gus averaged 20 points, 6 assists and 2.3 steals a game. At 6’2″, Williams was able to play either guard position. He was at his best busting out on the break and creating sublime scoring opportunities on the run. As time wore on and his team’s needs changed, Gus became more and more of a play-maker topping off with 8.5 APG in 1984.
Williams’ heyday was certainly with the Seattle SuperSonics, but his illustrious career began in Golden State.
Drafted by the Warriors in 1975, Williams was a sturdy backup in his first two years (1976 and 1977). That Warriors squad should have been a perennial contender in the late 1970s. Rick Barry was moving just a touch past his prime but with Williams, Jamaal Wilkes, Phil Smith, Clifford Ray and Robert Parish, that team initially had more than enough talent to contend. Indeed, The Warriors won the NBA title the year before Gus showed up (1975) and they reeled off an NBA best 59 wins in his rookie season (1976).
Ultimately, the Warriors fell apart in the 1976 postseason, losing the Western Conference Finals to 42-win Phoenix, and never recovered. Overlooked as a prized asset, the Warriors let Gus leave and sign with the Sonics after the 1976-77 season. One man’s afterthought is another’s franchise cornerstone.
Williams was inserted into Seattle’s starting lineup and his career truly took off. With Dennis Johnson playing alongside him, Williams wasn’t a full-time point guard or a full-time shooting guard. He just went out and played in the backcourt to stunning results. The Sonics made the NBA Finals in 1978, losing to the Washington Bullets in 7 games. The next year, Seattle returned to the Finals in a rematch with Washington. This time they captured the title in just 5 games with Gus averaging 29 points in the series.
Much like the Golden State year’s though, Gus’s time in Seattle was marred by a team that fell apart at the seams and didn’t maintain its greatest potential. Gus was no bystander in the Sonics’ fall. Offered a 3-year, $1.5 million deal by management, Williams rejected the deal and held out in the summer of 1980. The hold out continued into the fall. Then into the new year. The contract dispute ending up lasting the duration of the 1980-81 season.
Finally, Gus and Seattle agreed to a deal that paid him $700,000 a year, but the Sonics won just one more playoff series through the rest of Williams’ tenure with the club. In the summer of 1984, he was traded to the Washington Bullets where enjoyed one final campaign of brilliance in 1985 before the undefeated Father Time began to take his toll on Gus.
Gus Williams’ career unfortunately gets lost in what is sometimes perceived as the NBA’s doldrums, the late 1970s. His Sonics were a top-shelf contender in 1978, 1979, and 1980, losing in the NBA Finals, winning the title, and losing in the Western Conference Finals, respectively. But they lost in the WCF to the Showtime Lakers who ran away with the West, and the subsequent media attention, for the 1980s leaving Gus and his accomplishments in the dust.
However, it’s never too late to appreciate greatness. Memory may not instantly recognize Gus Williams and his Sonics of the era as great, but the history shows that indeed they were and indeed he was.
Seasons Played: 1976 – 1987
All-NBA 1st Team (1982)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1980)
2x All-Star (1982-’83)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1976)
NBA - 825 Games
17.1 PPG, 5.6 APG, 2.7 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 46.1% FG, 75.6% FT
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1975-76 through 1986-87 season)
2nd Steals, 5th SPG
7th Assists, 13th APG
14th Points, 12th FGs Made
14th 3PTs Made, 28th FTs Made
15th Games Played, 13th Minutes Played