Three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams parties hard. Everybody knows it. Everybody’s mother knows it. And not only is it not a secret in hoops circles; he’s proud of it. As ESPN scribe Zach Lowe recounted him saying in the latest The Lowe Post podcast, “sometimes, I just don’t tell the young players where I’m gonna go out at night, ‘cause they all want to come with me, and they can’t hang. They can’t play the next day doing what I do, but I can play the next day.” Which, in a nutshell, was why no surprise greeted news that he was photographed holding a drink while in a strip club late last week. It was Williams being, well, Williams.
There’s just one problem, however. Williams just so happened to be in the same zip code as Magic City’s, the aforesaid club in Atlanta, Georgia, because of an excused absence from the National Basketball Association’s bubble environment in Orlando, Florida. The Clippers granted him permission to attend the funeral of the father of a close family friend. Under the circumstances, he would have been expected to steer clear of any other high-risk activity. Instead, he found himself, in his own words, “stopping to get hot wings during a pandemic” because, apparently, the food in the strip club — on assumption that he didn’t resort to euphemism and meant something else with “hot wings” — is to die for. Figuratively and literally.
And so Williams will be subject to a 10-day quarantine before being allowed back in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The required exile will compel him to miss the first two of the Clippers’ eight seeding games, a not insignificant absence given his importance to the cause as their third-leading scorer and assists leader. It will also come at a cost to him; his absence figures to set him back around $150,000 in lost salary. He deserves the penalty, of course. In fact, he’s fortunate not to be subject to a more severe punishment in light of his carelessness.
Indeed, Williams could conceivably have exposed the entire Walt Disney World population to the virus as an asymptomatic carrier. Had rapper Jack Harlow not posted an Instagram story of his side trip with the caption “A location U would never guess,” it would have escaped the attention of authorities and subsequently enabled him to roam the campus freely. And they tried to worm their way out of the spot they were in, too. Fortunately, he was wearing a mask the NBA had just distributed to players; otherwise, the excuse that the pic was an old one could well have been accepted.
That Williams continues to downplay his faux pas is to be expected, not to mention reflective of why his peers doubt the efficacy of the experiment. Freedom is extremely difficult to give up even for the right reasons, and especially among a lot used to having its way. Just ask the Lakers’ Dwight Howard, who hates wearing a mask and doesn’t believe in vaccination. On the flipside, officials acknowledge the fragility of the bubble environment, hence their vigilance in enforcing — and appeal to those in it to follow — set rules.
Life goes on, and there will be more excused departures in the offing. Moving forward, the hope is that Williams’ mistake will serve as a cautionary tale from which others can learn impactful lessons. Else, the NBA will be going all in every single time, and it takes but a single card out of place for the house to fall.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.