One of the few recordings from the most important quarter in Nets history:
I wish I knew more about John Williamson.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s not completely absent from basketball lore. In Terry Pluto’s Loose Balls, a few well-traveled men shared their thoughts:
Williamson was an ass-kicker as a guard, which is something you seldom see. His game was to be physical, to pound you. – Bob Costas
You couldn’t take the ball away from Williamson. He would dribble the ball with one hand and have the other arm out to protect, literally stiff-arming anybody who tried to take it from him. He would just throw that arm out and — whack! — nail the guy guarding him. And the officials let it go because John had established that that was how he played. Soon word got around and everybody in the league just gave John a lot of room. – John Sterling
Williamson’s nickname was Super John and he led the team in personality. He was free-spirited, always upbeat and just a fun guy to be around, because he liked to play so much. That was before he got fat. He was about 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds of muscle. He was more of a warrior than a player, a guy who went out there and physically punished you. – Steve Albert
Along with his ass-kicking, his numbers speak for themselves; Williamson was a bruiser and a scorer. In the final year of the ABA, Williamson averaged 16.2 points per game for the Nets as a second option on offense behind Julius Erving. His scoring only got better once he got to the NBA, averaging 20.8 points per game for the Nets in 1977 until he was traded to the Pacers in a deal for a first-round pick — one that eventually became Bernard King.
The Nets couldn’t stay away for long, though; less than a year after trading him to the Pacers, the newly named New Jersey Nets traded for him again, this time only relinquishing Bob Carrington and two second-round picks. Williamson enjoyed further success in New Jersey, averaging 29.5 points per game in the 33 games following the trade, and 22.2 points per game the year after.
But statistics aside, there’s one major piece of Williamson’s career that’s largely shrouded in mystery. In 1976, in the final game in ABA history, the Nets overcame a 22-point third-quarter deficit to defeat the Denver Nuggets 110-106 and win the final ABA Finals. Williamson scored 24 of his 28 points in the second half, 16 in the fourth quarter alone. Dr. J didn’t score a single point in that fourth quarter, but Williamson carried the franchise during arguably its most important moment.
And yet, despite the importance of that game, of that quarter, there’s surprisingly little information readily available. There’s that radio clip above. There’s this peek into the first half on YouTube. There’s a misleading documentary that skims over Game 6 and doesn’t mention Williamson once. Most recants of that night mention Williamson’s heroics, but don’t delve much into how he achieved them.
So this entry, as of now, is a little incomplete. I recognize the greatness of his actions, but I don’t feel comfortable writing more about Williamson until I can see his impact in this crucial moment with my own eyes.
Luckily, I was able to track down one of the few remaining video copies of that 1976 Game 6. Once I’ve seen it — as of now, it’s in the mail — you’ll be hearing more from me. Additionally, if you’re one of the lucky fans who has seen this with your own two eyes, and remember the game well, don’t hesitate to add your knowledge.