Somewhere between unknown luminary and cultural icon sits Lou Williams.
A two-time Sixth Man of the Year on the verge of winning a record-tying third award this season. One of the many faces behind the Clippers’ success. The most prolific bench scorer in NBA history.
The Underground G.O.A.T.
He’s an old school hooper. He plays ball throughout the offseason. Cardio is his main concern. No weights. Push-ups, sit-ups, stretching and hooping.
His coach, Doc Rivers, jokes that Williams could play until he’s 40 because of this approach. “Jamal Crawford, very similar,” Rivers says. “So maybe those guys are onto something.”
Crawford seems like a bit of a natural comparison to Williams. After all, it’s his record for Sixth Man of the Year awards that Williams will tie. But when it comes to their game, Rivers, who coached Crawford during his last two award-winning seasons, sees a sneakiness to Williams’s game that differentiates the two.
“Jamal you kind of see what he does off the dribble,” Rivers says. “Lou, he’s just a very clever scorer. He really is. You don’t know how he gets open at times, but he does it. And when he goes left, it’s a basket.”
During his time with Rivers, Williams has posted the two best scoring seasons of his career, averaging 22.6 points last year and 20.3 through 69 games in this current campaign.
He’s also tallied more assists in these two seasons than he has in any other years. He’s undoubtedly playing the best ball of his career on the wrong side of 30, but he’s quick to note that coming off the bench for his whole career helped preserve his body in a way that wouldn’t have happened if he played more minutes throughout his career.
Taking on the role of being the sixth man when he could have found situations to get more shine is something teammate Montrezl Harrell noticed about Williams. He says Williams helped him understand it’s not about who starts, but about who finishes and ultimately getting the win. Rivers mentioned how Harrell has excelled this year in his bench role in a way most 25-year-olds couldn’t.
“He taught me on how to take it as a pro,” Harrell says. “A lot of guys in my position that love to compete, love to be out there, love to be active, wouldn’t know how to actually handle that—coming off the bench. Because you want to be out there early, you want to be out there to help your team start off and get to that early jumpstart. But being with a veteran guy like Lou who’s been in this position for a long time in his career—there’s been a number of times when he could have went to a team and actually been the key player on the team—but he’s relished in his spot, in his position and what he do.”
Harrell and Williams have been teammates since February 2017 when Williams was traded from the Lakers to the Rockets. That following summer those two, along with Patrick Beverley and a handful of other players were traded for Chris Paul.
Now Williams and Harrell lead the highest scoring bench in NBA—highest ever since the NBA started recording stats dating back to 1996—and are gearing up for a playoff run that could include a first-round meeting with CP3 and Houston.
“Me and Trez are like one and two. That’s just not arrogant, that’s like facts,” Williams says speaking of the Sixth Man of Year race. “We’ve put the work in consistently. Over 70 games now where we just went out every night and gave our team a spark.”
“Just the chemistry, knowing one another,” Harrell says about what makes them so lethal together. “The time we had to build that type of bond to know how each other move on the floor and putting each other in the best positions to score the ball. It’s just about having that chemistry. And being around him for that long in the summer, I was able to feel him out and know how he wants to be screened, know where his spots are on the floor, and I just try to do my best job to get him there.”
Beverley adds that those two “play the right way” and the team is “fortunate” to have them and Danilo Gallinari because you can just give them the ball to go get a bucket.
Rivers says Williams’s work as a leader has been key to the team’s success. Whether talking to players or coaches, his voice is one that helps guide the direction of the club.
It makes sense he has so much pertinent knowledge to share. After starting his career in Philadelphia, playing behind Allen Iverson fresh out of high school, to stints in Atlanta and Toronto precursing his run with the Lakers, he’s seen a lot.
He’s been on lottery teams and squads poised for big playoff runs. Teams that exceeded expectations and teams that stumbled to the finish.
In that time he grew a following within the basketball world that loves him just as much for his game as they do for his swagger and the too-cool-for-school aura that radiates off his 6’1”, 175-pound frame.
He’s not a household name, but if you know, you know.
It’s not just that he can go off for 40 a couple times a season. He also demands veneration from everybody he encounters.
He was giving out coats and sweaters with Meek Mill back when he was in Philly and getting a shoutout on the city’s song of the summer in 2011, months after hitting a game-winner in the playoffs over Dwyane Wade. The following season the 76ers fell one game short of reaching the Eastern Conference finals.
“ATL: LouWillVille,” Meek yells to open the third verse on House Party. “Tryna to show em how my n**** Louis Will feel.”
What does it feel like to be Lou Will?
It requires playing with three different all-time greats in Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and James Harden, and then being asked to close out games just like them when they aren’t on the roster.
It means getting the utmost respect in the most dangerous hoods. Even jackers know you’re doing too much good for the community to be a victim of an armed robbery.
It’s spending one year in Toronto that will live on forever in the hearts of many. Not only did you get award recognition for your work for the first time at the professional level, but the biggest rapper in the game had to dedicate the title and first words of a song to you.
“Boomin out in South Gwinnett like Lou Will, Six man like Lou Will, two girls and they get along like I’m …”
Like who, Drake? Who could an international pop sensation possibly be trying to live life like?
“Like I’m Lou Will.”
“I’m happy I stuck around long enough for people to kind of appreciate what I bring to the table. ... People that understand what I do. That’s why my friends and my family nicknamed me the Underground G.O.A.T.,” Williams says. “It’s like you’re not a star player but there’s people out there that really respect what I do and what I bring to the table.”
Hold up a second, though. His girlfriend had a girlfriend that was also his girlfriend?
He lives in a world so mind-blowingly mystifying you need George R.R. Martin to write the book on it. He’s the NBA’s Oberyn Martell.
But you’ll never see him drag out his kill and set himself up for failure. He goes for throats in the fourth quarter and handles his business as quickly as possible.
It’s why on a Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden, he has no trouble dropping 15 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter to close out the team’s 10th win in 11 games.
“I give us an opportunity to win in the fourth quarter. It’s always been my strongest quarter in my career—when it’s winning time,” Williams says.
He might not start games, but he ends them with ease.
He’s carved out a special place for himself that could make anyone jealous. His job is get buckets and live in the dopest cities.
Next season Williams will be 33 and playing his 15th year in The Association. We’re at the part in the allegory where the hero either elevates his status once more and adds chapters to his classic narrative, or he starts to fade away like so many greats before him.
But what do you think Lou is about to do?
“You’ll remember Jamal, you’ll remember Manu [Ginobili] and my name will be in that conversation,” Williams says. “And just continue to build on it, and years to come you’ll look back on it and people will say you did something pretty special.”
So when you watch him go left to finish off another fantastic fourth quarter and close out a playoff win at some point next month, don’t be surprised. He’s done it before and he’ll do it again.
It’s what he does and you can’t stop it.
Have you not heard the Legend of LouWillVille before?