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And Now We Praise Sixth Men: A Celebration of Lou Williams

The veteran Clippers guard is an NBA cult hero, don of the bench mob, and an old-school scorer’s scorer who evokes memories of Allen Iverson. And his performance against the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs is something worth celebrating.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

I.

It’s hard for me to look good in pictures. I think it’s because I’m not very attractive.

There are six good pictures of me. One’s from a handful of years ago. It’s my wife and me, in Chicago, tipsy, inside the photo booth at Village Tap in Roscoe Village. I was tan then, and funnier, and my hair had not yet reversed course and begun its exodus. She always looks good.

My sixth-grade yearbook photo was unbelievable. That’s probably the best I’m ever going to do in terms of just looking super hot and cool. Everything clicked. The hair was gelled and hard and shining, the front combed into something like a ramp. They could’ve used my hair for the XG Moto X Best Trick competition at the Summer X Games. Travis Pastrana could’ve done double backflips on a motorcycle off of my skull. My red-and-brown flannel worked well with the hazel blue of the backdrop and, frankly, I pulled out a tremendous smile. I have dimples and sometimes they do a good job. Not often. Not at all. Not even a little bit. But sometimes.

Someone took a nice picture of me in a bar once. I was wearing a shirt from Quiksilver.

Another was taken as my wife and I were leaving a wedding reception in Tacoma, Washington, standing on some steps outside a boathouse, both of us holding floral centerpieces the bride’s mother demanded we take home. You can see the water behind us.

The final two pictures were snapped a few seconds apart. I’m at a party, wearing this T-shirt I’ve since lost. It was blue with yellow letters. It said: Muskogee Night Hoops. Wouldn’t fit me anymore but, you know, you miss things.

II.

I spend a lot of time on Instagram. I watch some stories, scroll through my feed until I’ve gotten to the pictures I’ve already seen. Sometimes I look at those again. Other times I go to the Explore page. I look around, go through pictures and videos of people and places Instagram thinks I need to see.

This is how it went about a month ago. I’m on the Explore page. I watch several muted seconds of John Wall’s high school basketball mixtape. I have a great time. I’ve seen the video before. It’s probably one of the hundred greatest videos in the history of the world. I think about doing calf raises. I don’t. I am lazy. I go back to the search page. I see a picture of Ben Mendelsohn. He’s on a red carpet. He looks bored. I see a picture of penguins. One of them is fat. I see a picture of a man and a woman holding hands. He’s wearing a Miles Simon Arizona jersey. She’s in a green dress with blue stars on it. I don’t know them. My friend Alex liked the post. I see a picture Julia Roberts posted of herself. Her caption hypes up the Jillian Dempsey necklace she’s wearing and Ben Is Back, the movie she was doing press for at the time. Rita Wilson commented on the photo: “Ben is Back. Heartbreaking. Was so anxious that whole movie.” Roberts and Wilson are Scorpio sisters. I bet they had a blast on the set of Larry Crowne. I go back to the search page. I see a picture of Chris and Adrienne Bosh. They look like very kind people, very gentle, very happy. She sits in his lap. Their hands are touching. The diamond on her wedding ring’s somewhere between the size of a goldfish and one of those pastel buttermints they have out at weddings or the Mexican restaurant inside the mall or baby showers in church fellowship halls. I see a picture of Trump. His teeth remind me I’ll one day die. They’re such an odd color. Some combination of moonstone-colored Tic Tacs, buttered chalk, egg white urinal cakes, old freezer paper, and the clear, translucent outsole option Nike By You has available for some of its basketball shoes. Then I see a photo of Lou Williams. The sky opens. Bright drops of silver light flood my eyes. There are trumpets. A host of angels flutter above me. They sing a song. A new hymn, repeated, over and over, nine words long.

Lil Lou and the crew on the high seas.

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Lil Lou and the crew

A post shared by Lou Williams (@louwillville) on

III.

Not all kings sit on thrones. Some spread out on training tables. Check Twitter with ice on their knees, nachos in their hands.

He’s never in a hurry, always plays at his pace, his rhythm just left of center enough to keep defenders guessing, a half second behind. He gets where he needs to and he has every throw.

The pain can come from anywhere. Deep 3s. Threes on the move. Threes off the bounce. Threes off kickouts. Stepbacks. Floaters. Shots off the glass. Pull-up jumpers. Runners. Finishes around the rim. He’s got the ability to hurt you at every level and if you’re not careful he can get equatorial in a hurry. In Games 2 and 5 of the L.A. Clippers’ first-round series against the Golden State Warriors, the man was positively sweltering. Handle with humility and oven mitts. The Nacho King serves up a piping-hot bowl of buckets and good cheer.

There’s an assuredness to him. He just goes about his business, a quiet monster with flames for hands, a chin beard, and a quick first step. His game’s secure. It’s not begging and pleading for your attention. There’s no hounding. He’s a silent rapscallion and a madman, and if you’re reading this he would score on you again and again.

Ralph Lawler, the inimitable and buttery voice of the Clippers for the last 37 years, had a ton of fun screaming “Bingo!” after every Williams 3 this year. He let loose a couple at Charlotte that sounded like bullhorns, the bingo shrieked to the point it was like there were rocks in his chest, static in his throat. In a February game at Detroit, Williams hit a 3 to put the Clippers up nine with two minutes and ten seconds left. It felt like a dagger. Lawler just started laughing.

IV.

Game 2 was Williams’s opus. It’s like a day takes a year anymore, but if you’ve read this far you’ve probably heard the numbers sometime in the last week. The 8-seeded Clippers, down 31 at one point, came all the way back to beat the 1-seeded and two-time defending champion, the Golden State Warriors. It was the largest comeback in NBA playoff history and it was on the road. Williams was the architect of it all, controlling the final quarter and a half with his playmaking, shotmaking, and general, all-around, unquantifiable radness.

Draymond Green switched out onto him with 4:51 left in the third quarter. Williams took a couple dribbles to the left, pulled up, and hit. He was sort of whatever about it, too. As long as I’m here, I might as well score. Green was right there, had a nice contest. Didn’t matter. The shot went in anyway. When it did, the Clippers were down 23. Marv Albert was calling the game. He mentioned that the make gave Williams 16 points. Again, this was with 4:51 left in the third quarter. He had 36 by the end of the night.

With a little over four minutes left in the fourth, Green came out of a roll and dunked one to put the Warriors up six. The Oracle crowd got to their feet and started to growl a little. Williams took the inbounds pass coast to coast, hit a runner with Thompson draped all over him. He hits all kinds of big shots. The obvious ones, the kind that tie a game up or take the lead, but he also makes the big shots that people tend to forget. The ones that keep his team attached, that bring the deficit from 11 to eight, that keep the outcome in doubt in the third quarter when the other team keeps threatening to run away. It’s like he plays at a slight lean all the time, always kicking back, getting comfortable, making himself at home.

V.

Williams, wearing a robe, in a palace with hundreds of rooms, just walking around, slamming doors closed. There’s nothing extra to him. He’s bare bones. It’s his uniform, a sensible crew-cut sock, and the hand of God. He’s here to put the defenders of the world to bed. He’ll read them a few books—maybe Giraffes Can’t Dance, maybe The Little Engine That Could, maybe Dragons Love Tacos—and sing them a few songs. He’ll tell them he loves them and he’ll see them in the morning. Sweet dreams. If you need anything I’ll be out here bringing an arena to its disoriented knees.

The Terry Cloth Hammer. I say again, The Nacho King. It’s the little things with Williams. The final subtle bump he gives the defender’s chest before rising up. The pocket passes to Montrezl Harrell, the little windows he finds. The hesitations and changes of direction while he’s running off screens. The hesitations and changes of direction while he’s attacking guys off the dribble. He will take and make 17-foot runners from just below the top of the key and he will bank them in off the glass because I can only assume he’s bored out of his mind?

On Wednesday night, with nine minutes and seventeen seconds left in the fourth quarter of Game 5, he crossed Durant up, left him grasping at the empty space in front of him. Andrew Bogut had to come over and help, and Harrell dove to the rim. Williams dropped it off for him. Didn’t even bother looking. Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala were late rotating over and Harrell screamed and punched it. Williams and Harrell have what I can only assume is some kind of twin ESP-type thing where they’re just always kind of aware of each other. They’re the two pillars of the best bench in the league and the two best players on the team. In Game 5 they combined for 57 points. It was wild.

Early second quarter, Williams took an outlet off a Thompson miss and looked ahead. He saw Harrell, ever stalwart, the man who had just contested the Thompson jumper, running down the court as hard as he possibly could. Williams let the ball go, threw it from just below the free-throw line on one end to just above the block on the other. Harrell, one of the nation’s top receiving threats and a true hero, caught it in stride. Customer service is very important to Harrell. It’s an aspect of his job he takes very seriously. He wants you to have a positive experience when you watch him play, so, on this particular occasion, he decided to one-hand it with his left hand, lay it in with his right. Afterward, he held his arms in the air and signaled a touchdown as he got back on defense. Later on, Harrell dunked on Green. This was off another feed from Williams. Harrell slipped a screen and Williams split the oncoming double with a wormburner of a pass. Harrell was still catching the ball on his way up. Green, scrambling to help, tried to block the shot. They went chest to chest. Green lost. Harrell paid his respects to his elders—visions of Darius Miles, Lamar Odom, Quentin Richardson. He smiled, jumped around, bounced his fists off the top of his head.

VI.

Williams doesn’t discriminate. He’ll score on anyone. It didn’t really matter who the Warriors put on him. He got his regardless. It’s hard to say which shot of his was the biggest. One option’s the pull-up he hit over Durant with 2:06 left in the game. Pushed the lead up to five. Made it a two-possession game.

Another option’s the pull-up he hit over Iguodala with 1:29 left in the fourth. That put them up seven. The Warriors treated it as a dagger.

And then there’s the and-1 3 he hit over Durant on the left wing. Late fourth, the Warriors had just taken a 118-117 lead, their first since 50-49 in the second quarter, and the crowd was loud. That 3 shut everyone up. Everyone but Chris Webber. Right? Any of you guys watch basketball? You seen this guy? Anybody else feel like he talks a lot? It’s like jeez, man, we get it. You like to talk. He’s all like, oh, oh, I’m Chris Webber look at me, I know this about basketball, I’m cool. It’s like, dude, we get it. Honestly, Chris Webber will stop talking when hell freezes and not a day sooner. That’s it for me tonight. Thank you so much. You guys have been a fantastic audience. There are some CDs and pins and custom mouse pads for sale in the back, and then we’ve also got vinyls as well but with the vinyls it’s a thing where, like, they’re decorative. So, you can’t listen to them, but they look really good. It’s really—honestly, you know what? They’re actually more like individual art pieces. We’ve worked with local artists and artisans and each one is handcrafted and homemade and we’ve actually been able to use this new kind of special polymer that my friend Brad produces in his garage. I give it a day until the very thought of this final paragraph embarrasses the hell out of me. My name is Tyler Parker. Good night!

Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.