Bullets' Williams doesn't get it big time

MIKE LITTWIN

December 11, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

You know chutzpah?

Here's chutzpah: It's when John Williams walks into an arbitration hearing to determine whether the Bullets owe him the pay they withheld on account of his weight, and he weighs maybe 310 pounds. In the middle of the basketball season.

This is like coming to a Greenpeace meeting holding a club and wearing a sealskin coat.

Hasn't Williams ever seen one of those murder-trial movies where the blond temptress comes to court wearing glasses and with her hair tucked under her hat, trying to look like someone who belongs to a knitting society? At the very least, Williams should have worn something slimming -- say, Refrigerator Perry's pants.

I'm still having trouble trying to visualize this hearing. It should have been pretty easy for the Bullets to win their case. Bullets: John, please step on a scale. (He does.) We rest our case.

Did you see Big John? We'd run his picture, but then there wouldn't be room for the column, and you'd miss the jokes.

Except, how funny are the jokes anymore?

When do the Domino's lines and the if-you-build-the-Dunkin'-Donuts-he-will- come lines lose their ability to amuse?

What's clear today is that the Big in Big John Williams stands not only for his massive girth, but also for his massive problems. Big John is Big Trouble, Big Time.

He shouldn't be in arbitration; he should be in therapy. He shouldn't be trying to recapture lost money; he should be trying to recapture lost time.

You've heard of being eaten out of house and home? Williams is eating himself out of house, home, job, career and millions of dollars.

He needs help. He must be the working definition of an eating disorder.

Let me tell you how bad it is. Last season, Williams, as everyone must know, just didn't show up for a while. He was at large (the joke was, he was at extra large). He had hurt his knee, and he hadn't rehabilitated, and he was very fat. Over 300 pounds fat. Finally, he showed up, and the Bullets withheld his salary for the time he missed -- amounting to $500,000.

But they said he could get the money back if he followed a fairly liberal weight plan. If, on June 1, he weighed no more than 276, he got $100,000. If he weighed 272 on July 1, he got another $100,000. If he weighed 268 on Aug. 1, another $100,000. And 264 on Sept. 1, bingo, another 100 grand. Finally, on Oct. 1, if he got to 260, he got his final $100,000.

In other words, if he lost 16 pounds over four months -- a pound a week -- he got back the whole $500,000. This is what we call incentive. Lay off double-chili cheeseburgers for a month, and you get 100,000 low-fat clams. Just think if that were offered to the public. The line at Weight Watchers would be from here to Hagerstown.

What did Williams do with all that incentive?

On June 1, he weighed 278, but sweated off the 2 pounds and got his money.

On July 1, he came in heavier, tried to sweat off the weight and missed. The Bullets scheduled a makeup test, but Williams didn't show.

On Aug. 1, Bullets GM John Nash was in L.A., where Williams lives, and said he'd weigh Williams there. They set up an appointment. Williams again didn't show. It was a 3 o'clock appointment, and, just guessing, lunch went long.

In fact, Williams didn't show up again until fairly recently, and he looks to weigh 300-plus pounds. Of course, the Bullets suspended him again -- no play, no pay. They said he could work out at their complex, and the Bullets say he has showed up once since the beginning of November.

And he takes them to arbitration?

It's sad, really. You have to feel sorry for anyone who is throwing away his life like that. He's 25, and if he were playing basketball, he'd be making $1.2 million this season. And he has the ability to make twice that amount or three times that amount. In his life, as in the life of many athletes, he has never had to face discipline. Maybe it's harder for him. Maybe he is a compulsive overeater. Maybe he has a medical problem. Whatever his problem, he owes it to himself to get it worked out.

I talked to him last winter when he came back to play, and when he said he was on his way to recovery.

I asked him whose fault it was.

He said: "My fault. . . . I just didn't take care of myself."

And the moral of the story?

"I know I have to try hard all the time. I have to stay focused. It's a year-round job, and I'm not going to let this happen again."

But it has happened again. And what the arbitration proves, as much as his weight problem, is that he hasn't learned anything at all.

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