When it comes time next spring for junior All-America center Shaquille O'Neal to weigh the wisdom of completing his college career at Louisiana State or opting for the NBA draft, where he is all but guaranteed to be the No. 1 pick, don't be surprised if his coach, Dale Brown, invokes the name of John Williams.
Brown will likely remind O'Neal that Williams elected to skip his last two seasons at LSU to join the NBA as a 20-year-old unprepared to assume the burden as one of the Washington Bullets' building blocks.
Williams seemed capable of coping with the pressure his first three years as a pro, but his whole world began to collapse after injuring his knee in 1989. Since then, the Los Angeles native has been fighting emotional and physical problems and started the past two seasons under medical suspension for being overweight.
After eight months of acrimony, it's safe to say that the continuing contract hassle between the Bullets and Williams is irreconcilable.
Bullets management realizes that their once-prized forward has lost most of his trade value in his present bloated condition. And Williams, 25, a basketball leper of sorts, must wonder if his days in the NBA are numbered.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Brown uses Williams as an example in talking with O'Neal," said Bullets general manager John Nash. "I almost expect him to."
But O'Neal and Williams are dissimilar cases. For one, O'Neal, as the first draft choice, would be guaranteed at least $3 million as a rookie, or about five times what Williams received his first year in the NBA, when he was the 12th player chosen.
And O'Neal's position on the court would be clearly defined while the versatile Williams gravitated between the two forward spots and occasionally auditioned at center and point guard.
But the frustration O'Neal constantly faces in college, where he draws double- and triple-teams in the low post, could hasten his departure from LSU. Typical was an early-season game against Arizona when the 7-foot-2 star was restricted to 10 points and four rebounds in 22 minutes.
NBA scouts have noted that "Shack" lacks the fire he exhibited as a sophomore when he averaged 27 points and 14 rebounds. O'Neal is currently averaging 23.3 points and 12 rebounds.
"He doesn't have a challenge every night," said San Antonio assistant Ed Manning, the father of Los Angeles Clippers forward Danny Manning, who was the first player selected in the 1988 draft. "When Danny was a junior, I didn't think he was ready for the NBA, but O'Neal has a pro body."
O'Neal relies heavily on the advice of his father, Army Sgt. Phillip Harrison, who, in the past, has indicated he wants his son to finish college. But Harrison recently underwent back surgery and that could influence O'Neal's decision.
Understandably, Brown views O'Neal as his ticket to an NCAA Final Four berth. But North Carolina guru Dean Smith must have felt the same way about James Worthy, Michael Jordan and J.R. Reid, and still advised them to skip their senior years at Chapel Hill.
O'Neal got his strongest endorsement from a Hall of Fame center.
"As a collegian, he's like Wilt Chamberlain reincarnate," said the man of the same name.
What a relief: Coach Dick Motta and his players seemed relieved after he "retired" as coach of the Sacramento Kings last week. Disgruntled players led by forward Wayman Tisdale reportedly urged management to dismiss Motta. After surpassing Gene Shue as the all-time losing NBA coach, Dec. 21, by bowing to Dallas, Motta said of loss No. 862, "If I'm going to be known as a loser, this game was a good one to be associated with." The Kings were routed by the Mavericks, 109-85.
Kite-tying: Orlando center Greg Kite shrugged off fan reaction to his recent visit to Miami, where he is remembered for brawling with Heat rival Rony Seikaly. "I get booed worse at home," said Kite.
Double-header: Dr. David Ho has advised Magic Johnson, who has tested HIV positive, against rejoining the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs or participating in the Olympics, two moves he has considered. Said Johnson: "I'm not saying I'd go against him. I want to live. That's the main thing. I also have my wife [Cookie] to consider now. It's two heads, not just my hard head."