In 2018 I talked with former Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors player, who was drafted in 1996, and spent nine years in the NBA – Jerome Williams. We discussed the time Jerome spent in Toronto.
Trade from Detroit to Toronto
What did you think about leaving Detroit, after having few good seasons there?
I started in Detroit in 1996 as a rookie. I was very excited to be in the NBA and had a good four-year run with the Pistons playing alongside Hall of Famers such as Joe Dumars and Grant Hill. It was a tremendous experience. Having veteran leadership like Rick Mahorn and Grant Long, definitely helped me in my development. I was not overly excited to be traded, but I was excited to be going with the young team with veteran leadership in the Toronto Raptors.
My love affair began as soon as I stepped over the border from Detroit to Windsor and then from Windsor to Toronto where I had young teammates in Vince Carter, Mo Peterson, Alvin Williams, Keon Clark, and veterans such as Antonio Davis, Dell Curry, Charles Oakley, and Tracy Murray. So very well-balanced team that could definitely light it up and defend and I had tremendous time with that team.
Is it true that when you received the news about the trade, you immediately drove to Toronto?
That is correct. I did not want to miss the practice the next day. They had a chart to playing for me, but I figured out and got there early, met my teammates for practice and was ready to play that day. So, I was excited to start a new chapter. Sorry to miss my old fans in Detroit, my DoggPound, excited about my new DoggPound in Toronto, north to the border.
How did you feel in a team with so many great players such as Vince Carter, Dell Curry, Kevin Willis, later Charles Oakley, Hakeem Olajuwon? Was there bigger pressure because of that?
Oh no, no pressure. You always love playing with great players because it makes your job easier. We had a great team. We were one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference during my years with the Raptors and we were one of the teams that was being looked at to win it all. So it was great to have that kind of players. All of them were great and it was great to be alongside Hall of Famers such as Hakeem Olajuwon and guys like that.
Speaking about Charles Oakley and Hakeem Olajuwon. You played with both of them during your time in Toronto. How much did you learn from them?
These guys are great. Charles Oakley, one of the best rebounders in the NBA history, his toughness, his professionalism, and his bullying mentality definitely are key things that you can pick up from and Hakeem Olajuwon, one of the best centers of all-time. His footwork is one of the best ever in the NBA history and what he was able to do with the basketball offensively and defensively, being a two-way player, blocking shots, scoring down low in the paint fadeaway jump shots on the baseline. He taught me a lot and I just enjoyed my time playing with him.
Conf. Finals vs 76ers
In 2001 the Raptors reached the Eastern Conference Semis. What do you remember from this really extreme seven-game battle?
It was great. Game 6 really sticks out – win or go home game for us at home, in Toronto. We were playing our hearts out. Fourth quarter, pivotal point in the game, I dunked on Dikembe Mutombo, my alma mater from Georgetown, classmate. It really set the tone for leading the comeback charge to win it in Game 6 and send it to Game 7. We went to Game 7 with lot of momentum, lot of confidence, unfortunately came up one basket short.
I would like to mention also Allen Iverson, because he was also your mate from Georgetown University.
That is right. My classmate, my roommate. Allen was the MVP of the NBA, Hall of Famer. It was great for his career to go that far, all the way to the Finals and come up short vs Lakers, but pound for pound he proved that he is one of the best, if not the best at his height in the NBA history. You know, player 6 feet, at his weight, really changed the game, not only from the basketball point. And I was with him at the All-Star at Georgetown, during his freshman year. Saw a lot of great highlights and a lot of great performances that he was able to push the Georgetown team and other teams to greater heights. It was great to play against him in the playoffs, unfortunately I came up a little short, but at least another Georgetown made it.
Years spent with the Raptors
And what about your 30-point career-high against the Orlando Magic in 2002?
That was a great game! That was definitely a memorable game. He, Tracy McGrady has been in Toronto few months earlier and beat us up really bad. I really had that game circle, because when he played in Toronto, I was coming off an ankle injury. I was trying to give my team a chance out there, and I had extra motivation; Vince Carter was down that particular game in Orlando. My team needed a little bit more scoring from me that night, so I was much obliged to show to people that I was not just a rebounder and defender, that I could actually score at basketball game. And it is definitely much more memorable when you do it against Tracy McGrady versus anybody else in the league during that time because he is also a Hall of Famer.
NBA – then and now
You had a chance to see the NBA of the 1990s and 2000s. How much do you think the game has changed?
Well, definitely changed. We got some different things going from teams point of view. The game is a little bit faster with the type of players that they have, more spacing on the floor, less low-post scoring. When I was playing, we had a lot of great centers from Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, guys like Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon. Guys that do a lot of work in the low-post and force double teams.
Right now, it is more perimeter aspect game. You have got players like James Harden, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, perimeter guys that can light it up from deep, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James. Guys that create their game of the movement vs posting up. Even Michael Jordan in my era was a post-up player. He did a lot of work in that triangle offense. Nowadays, game has changed. These guys are doing more face-up versus back to the basket.