Marvin Williams Sr., the father of 15-year veteran Marvin Williams Jr., is not shy. On the contrary, he’s so outspoken about his life and experience that he wrote a book about it – Secondary Break: An NBA Dad’s Story. And he’s also outspoken about his son and how he was developed as a professional basketball player.
“I think Marvin could have been developed better and utilized better – he was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft,” Williams Sr. recently told Basketball Insiders.
But while Williams Sr. is an outspoken advocate of the game of basketball, racial equality and a number of other topics that are important to him, he’s not a show-off and he doesn’t say any more than he must. He’s the anti-LaVar Ball, an NBA-dad who tries to drive narratives about his sons and their basketball careers instead of advocating for them. Unlike Ball, Williams Sr. is calculated and deliberate, recognizing the difference between speech as a means of making a point and talking to hear yourself speak.
“I feel like LaVar has done a terrible job,” Williams Sr. said. “And let me tell you why.”
“Chris Paul’s dad and I have an organization called Fathers and Men of Professional Basketball,” Williams Sr. explained. “What our group is about is letting people know that [the media] were portraying black athletes as only having moms, not dads. But Chris’ dad has been in his life his whole life, I have been in Marvin’s life his whole life. But when you’re in public getting introduced, they look at you like you’re crazy.”
“I’ve had people say, ‘You must be his step dad.’ But that’s the narrative in the NBA,” Williams Sr. continued. “We’re trying to let people know that there are dads that are in their kids’ lives.
Williams Sr.’s path began at the height of the civil rights movement in Brooklyn, NY. Predictably, the Black Panthers were influential in his upbringing.
“Their goal was all about taking care of the black community because the government wasn’t,” Williams Sr. explained. “They would step in and feed the poor community, protect them, fight for them and just pay attention to what was going on in black communities at that time.”
Williams Sr.’s childhood was split between New York and the South, including an impressive high school basketball career in North Carolina. Despite receiving multiple scholarship offers, he decided to forego basketball to join the Navy. He had his son while enrolled and he landed in Seattle, where there was less overt racism than Williams Sr. was used to. Still, there was enough for Williams Jr. to learn about racism without his dad needing to explain it.
“The funny thing is, Seattle was different,” Williams Sr. said. “Marvin was raised in a military town. I never felt that [racism]. But his uncle used to have run-ins with the police all the time, so he saw it first-hand.
“The conversation [between Marvin and I] didn’t take place, he just saw it and he understood what was going on,” Williams Sr. continued. “And then when I had my incident with the police, I sat down and explained it to him. Because when it happened, people in his school were picking on him saying his daddy got locked up. So, I had to sit him down, but his uncle had already spoken to him about that. I think he picked it all up really quick.”
Williams Sr. had a run-in with the police of Bremerton, Washington on New Year’s Eve in 2000. A portion of Secondary Break is dedicated to explaining what happened and why. Despite that setback and numerous other challenges, Williams Sr. finds himself with connections in basketball that any fan of the game would kill for.
“That’s God’s doing,” Williams Sr. said about the place he’s achieved in the basketball community. “I was put in the place that I came from and put in the place where I met the right people. And it trickled down to my son – Marvin’s been blessed. I put him with Jim Tanner at Tandem Sports, who I think is one of the best agents in the world.”
As mentioned above, the list of people to whom Williams Sr. has ingratiated himself includes the greatest of all time, Michael Jordan.
“[Jordan] outworked everybody,” he said. “I knew once he went to Carolina, that his game was going to a whole different level.
“I was competitive. We were friends off the court, but once we got between those lines, we weren’t friends, and that included Mike.”
But the list of legends in his Rolodex doesn’t end with Jordan. It also includes one of the most respected men, on and off of the court, in the broader basketball community – John Lucas II. Lucas II is currently a player development coach for the Houston Rockets. He is a 14-year NBA veteran, and was formerly the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Lucas II has also served as an assistant coach on numerous occasions and has spent a great deal of time and energy severing as a mentor to individual players, helping them overcome addiction issues. Specifically, Lucas coached an NBA-sponsored team in the USBL in the early 1990s that brought on Williams Sr.
“John has done a lot for a lot of NBA players. For me, he just gave me an opportunity,” Williams Sr. said. “I ran into him four or five years ago in Vegas. I thanked him for the opportunity. I used to watch him when he was in the league. He was tough.
“I liked that he was looking for guys to give second chances, too. It’s wonderful if there’s someone that can give people a helping hand.”
Williams Sr. was raised in a different era in which basketball prospects didn’t have an established system through which prospects are identified and streamlined to brand endorsements, colleges and, ultimately, the pros. Williams Sr. played at a time when word-of-mouth was relied on for scouting takes, and the best players didn’t always pursue basketball.
“With social media, I would have been in the NBA, for sure,” Williams Sr. said. “It’s all about exposure. I was [in] Division-1 playing ball, but there were only a couple of guys that could really hoop. Back then, if you couldn’t score on the SATs you’d go to the NAIT division.
“Back then, if word got out about me,” Williams Sr. mused. “I know I would’ve been in the league.”
Williams Sr. suffered the fate of many a pre-modern player – without the infrastructure provided by Nike, Adidas and the NCAA, he was left to fend for himself. But his son came up differently.
Williams Jr. was quickly identified as a strong prospect and was held in high esteem by scouts and coaches all over the nation. That led to him accepting a full scholarship to North Carolina, where he won an NCAA Championship and entered the NBA Draft after just one collegiate season. Williams Jr. was selected No. 2 overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2005 NBA Draft – two spots before Chris Paul. Still, Williams Sr. believes that his son could have had an even better career had he been developed more deliberately.
“At that time, if you came in as the first or second pick in the draft, they used to build the whole team around you,” Williams recalled. “You were the guy that was going to take the franchise to the next level. When Marvin went to Atlanta, that wasn’t the case.
“Everything was built around Joe Johnson, the owner was captivated with him,” Williams Sr. continued. “That general manager at the time [Billy Knight] was so far ahead of his time that people didn’t even realize what he was doing until now.
“[Knight] kept picking forwards and everyone was asking why, but they were some versatile forwards. And then with [Mike Woodson], I think he felt like Marvin was coddled at Carolina, which he wasn’t. He’s always worked hard. But Woody never gave him credit for his work ethic. Had Woody done a better job – and as a black coach, he was more concerned about keeping his job instead of developing Marvin as a second option – they could’ve done something special.”
But Williams Sr. doesn’t blame Woodson. Instead, he believes it’s a systemic issue. “Take a look at Kenny Gattison, who coached Marvin in Atlanta,” Williams Sr. explained. “I think he would’ve been an incredible head coach. He’s currently the vice president of the retired players association. He was a big man, though, so he wasn’t allowed to coach.
“When it comes to Blacks and equality, I mean, you have a white guy running the NBA, and you have white owners. You just don’t have as much power [given to Black people]. Everybody wants to win – it used to be that they were picking guys because they were white. White guys are given more opportunities to mess up and fail. Black guys, it’s all about winning. Marvin, when he was in Atlanta, I think the pressure that Woodson felt played a big role in his approach.”
Ultimately, Williams Sr. allowed his son to make his own decisions, allowing his son and his representatives to decide what was best for them. Once his son entered the NBA, he became a sounding board at – but more often than not, he was just a dad.
“I got an offer when I was younger to coach Marvin. I don’t want to be on the bench coaching my son,” Williams Sr. said. “You coach the kid all day, get in the car, they hear your mouth the whole ride. Then, in the house, they hear you all day. Eventually they’ll shut down on you.
“I’ve done a lot of individual coaching with the girls’ game,” Williams Sr. continued. “I’ve always told him, ‘if you want to play, come to me and I’ll show you how to do it. But I’m not going to force you to play.’ When Marvin got to Carolina, it wasn’t my job to coach Marvin beyond individual private work. And then, once you’re in the league, that becomes the agent’s job. They represent that player. I wanted to be a support system, not the coach or the mouth piece. And I would never go to the media and bad mouth a deal. That’s just not my place.”
But even as a sounding board, Williams Sr. recognized where his role began and ended. He tried to help his son make decisions without voicing his own preferences.
“We took opportunities as they came,” Williams Sr. explained. “As a parent, you want your kid to be put in the best possible position to be successful. If he had deals, Marvin’s agent would come to us. All I wanted him to do was to have a chance to win a championship.
“With Charlotte, I mean, Marvin loved Charlotte. But he also knew he was getting older,” Williams Sr. said. “They were moving in a different direction. He decided to move on because he knew he only had so many years left. The move to go to Milwaukee was about getting a chance to win,” Williams Sr. continued.
“I think he just wanted to get back into the playoffs and see what he could do to help a team.”
With his experience and positive outlook, it’s easy to imagine a world in which Williams Sr. joins an NBA coaching staff – but it’s equally as predictable to assume that his son will grow into a coach.
“I do know that he doesn’t want to be involved heavily as a coach,” Williams Sr. explained. “He’s gotten some offers to coach, but he definitely wants to be involved in the NBA. It’s a great fraternity, with so many different directions you can go with basketball. He’s enjoying himself, enjoying time with his kids and he’s going to figure out what’s next.”
Like his son, Williams Sr. is taking his next opportunity seriously, vetting all possibilities. But for now, he’s happy promoting his book – Secondary Break: An NBA Dad’s Story – and talking about what he’s learned as a man, a basketball player and an NBA dad.