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  • Budd Bailey

Braves New World: Chuck Williams

(Budd Bailey and Greg D. Tranter have written a book called "Buffalo Braves From A to Z," published by St. Johann Press. Early in the writing process, they wrote good-sized biographies of all 71 men who played a regular-season game for the Braves during their time in Buffalo from 1970 to 1978. Publishers weren't so enthusiastic about all of that material, so most (59) of the biographies were shortened to about 500 words. However, the authors hated to waste all of that material ... so they are presenting it here. It will appear three times a week. A bibliography is available upon request.)

Consider yourself a basketball fan of the biggest magnitude if you can come up with the professional basketball record set by Chuck Williams. It’s very obscure. Still, making history is always good. Besides, Williams beat the odds simply by having a relatively long and successful career – even if he had to travel a bit to do it.


Edward “Chuck” Williams was born on June 6, 1946, in Pittsburgh, California. He and his family moved to Denver when Chuck was about 8. Williams enrolled at East High School in that city, and it’s fair to say that he was one of the greatest athletes in the history of the school … and maybe the state. Chuck’s best sport probably was basketball, as he was an all-city pick in Denver three times. However, he was an all-city pick in football as a two-way lineman twice. In fact, Williams was an all-state selection in both of those sports in 1962-63 and 1963-64. If that weren’t enough, he even earned a varsity letter in track and field once.


Team success also followed Williams in those years. The Angels won a state football championship in 1963 and a state basketball title in 1964. Both of those teams lost in the state finals when he was a junior. It’s no surprise that he ended up in the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Hall of Fame in 2015. "From an academic view and in sports, East was a top school at that time," Williams said. "We won state championships, and I still have friendships from that time period now."


After graduation, Williams headed to Boulder to play basketball at the University of Colorado, which he called “an easy decision.” Chuck watched as a freshman as the Buffaloes went 13-12 in 1964-65 under coach Sox Walseth. Then he moved right into the starting lineup of the varsity as a sophomore. He was a double-digit scorer that season, at exactly 10 points per game. Colorado had a 12-13 record overall – 6-8 in the Big Eight Conference. Williams quickly earned a reputation for speed and quickness.


About the only thing that could slow Chuck down was an injury, and he had one in 1966-67. A serious knee injury limited his played time as a junior, as he only averaged 5.7 points per game. However, the other Buffs picked up their game and finished with a 17-8 record (10-4 Big Eight). Williams battled back to return to the lineup as a senior. He averaged 18 points per game, second only to Pat Frink’s 18.9. That helped him earn honorable mention All-Conference honors that season. Colorado didn’t fare as well, slipping to 9-16. Its 3-11 record in conference play put the Buffs seventh in the Big Eight.


"I was always known as a very good passer and developed my game to be able to run a team in the pros," Williams said. "I was a point guard and was running the team; setting the plays up, putting people in the right position to get the plays going."


Williams, therefore, was a very good but not great college player when he was healthy. Only the best players, though, usually advance to the next level. Williams had a long wait to find out what NBA team had taken him on draft day. He went in the sixth round (No. 76) to the Philadelphia 76ers. Only four of the 14 players picked in that round made it to the NBA.


Williams didn’t beat the odds in the fall of 1968, as he was cut on September 22. Chuck spent two years away from pro basketball, and then was invited to try out for the Pittsburgh team in the ABA in 1970. The squad had been known as the Pipers in the 1969-70 season, but changed its name to the Pioneers on June 25, 1970. It didn’t last long. Point Park College, an NAIA school, was just down the street from the team’s offices, and used the Pioneers nickname. What’s more, a losing entrant in the name-the-team contest filed a lawsuit for the results. The franchise took the easy way out and became the Condors on July 23 – for no obvious reason.


Williams signed with Pittsburgh on August 21. Happily for him, he made the team – and earned a decent amount of playing time. Williams played in 83 games, averaging 9.5 points per game in 21.6 minutes. He also probably prompted a bit of confusion among the announcers at times that season. You see, Charlie Williams was also on the Condors’ roster for part of that season. He was traded in December of 1970 to Memphis, making things a little easier for the play-by-play men of the league.


The Pipers had a forward that season named John Brisker who had two obvious talents. He could score with the best of them – 29 points per game – and he could fight with the best of them. John was nicknamed “the heavyweight champion of the ABA.” For the record, Brisker played a few more seasons, and then disappeared around 1978 during a trip to Uganda. To this day, no one knows for sure what happened to him. The Condors scored a lot of points (119 per game) but gave up even more (121 per game) and finished with a 36-48 record.


Chuck was traded on September 30 to the Denver Rockets for the rights to Mickey Davis. Williams proved to be a handy reserve for his hometown team in 1971-72. He played in all 84 games, averaging 18.8 minutes. Chuck set a career high with 36 points in 39 minutes in a win against Indiana on February 6, The Rockets were led by Ralph Sampson, a big scorer (27.4 ppg), and a guard by the name of Larry Brown – who had a long, long career in coaching after his playing days were over. Denver finished 34-50.


Williams’ basketball life took another turn on August 10, 1972. He was picked by the San Diego Conquistadors of the ABA in an expansion draft. That’s always a difficult situation, but Williams made the best of it. He became a regular for the first time in his pro career, averaging 17.7 points in 37 minutes under coach K.C. Jones. Chuck matched his career high on March 10, 1973, when he scored 36 points in a Clippers’ win over Dallas. San Diego finished 30-54, and was eliminated by Utah in the first round of the playoffs.


Williams started his second season with the Q’s in 1973, and was on his way to having a good season. But San Diego had added rookie Bo Lamar in the offseason, and Williams had some value as a trade chip. On January 31, 1974. Williams and Red Robbins were dealt to Kentucky for Jim O’Brien, a first-round draft pick, and other considerations. This is where the pro basketball record comes up. Chuck already had played 57 games for San Diego, well ahead of where Kentucky was in games played. Williams played in 33 games for the Colonels, for a total of 90 in an 84-game season. No one has surpassed that number in pro basketball history.


Chuck was in a bit of a crowd with the Colonels, as Louie Dampier and Mike Gale were good guards. But Williams still played 28 minutes a game with an average of 8.8 points. No doubt Kentucky thought depth would help the roster at playoff time. The Colonels (53-31), featuring Artis Gilmore and Dan Issel, swept Carolina in the first round but were then swept by New York.


That was it for Williams in Kentucky. He was traded to the Memphis Sounds for cash and future considerations on August 9. Chuck led Memphis in minutes played (39.1 a game) and averaged 14.5 points. It was a good situation for Williams in spite of the 27-57 record, at least on the court. But on August 27, 1975, the Sounds moved to Baltimore and became the Hustlers. When that nickname didn’t go over well, it was changed to the Claws. In a little more than a month, the franchise folded. On October 21, Williams was the first player taken in the dispersal draft, as he was picked up by Virginia … who immediately traded him to the Nuggets for Fatty Taylor. Got all that?


The 1975-76 season provided some great memories for Williams. He was on a Denver team that went 60-24. Chuck joined David Thompson, Ralph Simpson, Bobby Jones and Dan Issel in the starting lineup. “Chuck is such a conscientious player that I’ve probably hurt him,” coach Larry Brown said. “Though he doesn’t get much attention, the players know what he is doing for them.”


The Nuggets won a seven-game series with Kentucky to advance to the ABA Finals. There they ran into the Nets, and Julius Erving was at the peak of his powers. In a six-game series won by New York, Erving averaged 42.8 minutes, 37.7 points, 14.2 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. All of the games were decided by fewer than 10 points. “That was a great team, and it would have been outstanding to win that last championship,” Williams said. “I would have loved to bring it back to Denver.”


Williams’ time in the ABA was anything but boring. "It was an interesting, crazy, disco time period," Williams said. "Big afros, bell-bottomed pants, platform shoes, and the whole stuff. I enjoyed my experience. There were a lot of not so great things, but a lot of great things that came out of great basketball like friendships. Even the guys you don't keep up with, there has been some things recently that has brought us back all together. You think about those times fondly."


Then the ABA and NBA merged in the summer of 1976, and everything became a bit scrambled. Williams lost his starting job to Ted McClain, and soon was on the move for the final time in his basketball career. Chuck was traded to the Buffalo Braves with Gus Gerard for Jim Price on December 13. The transaction came only a few days after Bob McAdoo had been dealt by the Braves to the New York Knicks.


The deal meant that the Denver Nuggets Alumni Association had a healthy membership on the Braves, with Claude Terry also playing for Buffalo. “We called ourselves ‘The Three Amigos,’” Terry said. “The general manager of the Nuggets had once made the comment that he wouldn’t trade his worst enemy to Buffalo. Then within a few weeks, Gus, Chuck and I were all in Buffalo. We said we were on his worst enemies list.”


Williams had to take on the seat behind Randy Smith, Ernie DiGregorio and Bird Averitt. Chuck played about 13 minutes a game with the Braves this season, averaging 2.8 points per game. The team finished 30-52.


Buffalo’s guards in 1977-78 consisted of Smith and what seemed like a cast of thousands. Williams actually did OK in terms of playing time, as he averaged 27.4 minutes in 73 games. Averitt, Ted McClain and Mike Glenn also were around. His best game was on November 30 when he scored 22 points in a win over Atlanta. The Braves were surrounded by turmoil that last season in the NBA, but Williams was at least a steadying force. Buffalo missed the playoffs with a 27-55 record.


The team moved to San Diego in the summer of 1978, but Williams never got to play there. He was waved on September 13. The 6-foot-2 guard played 638 pro games (500 in the ABA), averaging 10.8 points per game. Chuck played for six teams and passed through a couple of others.


Williams is a member of the Colorado University Athletic Hall of Fame. When he was inducted, he said it was a thrill to accomplish so much in a single state. "It was a bit surreal to go from high school, college, and play on the professional level in the same state," Williams said. "You just don't see that."


He worked on a variety of business ventures in the Denver area after retiring. One of them was a limousine service.

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)


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