When most players retire, we look back on their accomplishments and consider whether or not they fulfilled their potential and had a career worth remembering. By most standards, Jason Williams(notes) was a success. The 12-year NBA point guard retired Monday for the second time (the first coming in the summer of 2008), although the circumstances of this exit suggest it'll be more permanent than the first. After being waived by the Orlando Magic in January and being a non-factor with the Memphis Grizzlies after signing in February, it appears that the NBA no longer has much use for his services. So we must look back at the career of the man once known as White Chocolate and consider what it all meant.
Williams reached heights that few point guards even glimpse. As a rookie with the Sacramento Kings, he made the All-Rookie team, had one of the league's five most popular jerseys due to his flashy play, and was part of a team that took the defending West champion Utah Jazz to the full five games in the first round. Over the next two seasons, he was a part of an ever-improving Sacramento squad that was widely acclaimed as the most exciting team in the league. After cutting back on flashy passes while playing for Hubie Brown's Grizzlies, Williams became one of the league leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio. As point guard for the NBA champion Miami Heat in '05-'06, he was arguably the team's most important role player and shot 10 of 11 from the field in the East-clinching Game 6 against the Detroit Pistons. By the end of his career, Williams had become a steady veteran presence with enough credentials to command the respect of his teammates.
Yet, for all those accomplishments, his name will always be most associated with his early propensity for the kind of flashy passes usually seen on the playground circuit. The highlights made the Kings a "SportsCenter" favorite, back in the days before League Pass was a common purchase for NBA fans. They were the source of his nickname, which stuck with him long after it made any sort of sense. As a rookie, Williams was a legitimate sensation, to the point where he got attention that far exceeded his actual contributions to the Kings' success. In fact, the team didn't really take off until Williams was shipped to the Grizzlies for Mike Bibby(notes), a move that ultimately allowed coach Rick Adelman to run most of the office through the ridiculously skilled Vlade Divac and Chris Webber in the post.
This is all to say that no one will ever associate Williams with winning or veteran dependability, even if that's ultimately what defined him on the court. Instead, he'll always be that flashy young point guard, the one who played on the same high school team as Randy Moss and became most famous for throwing a pass off his elbow in the Rookie Game, a contest as far removed from legitimate competition as humanly possible.
Williams will forever defy the typical discussion of players as the sum of their accomplishments. In our minds, he'll always be White Chocolate, the rookie with a goofy haircut who was usually too flashy for his own good. Again, that's not who he was on the court for most of his career. Sometimes, though, it's more important to remember players for the flawed moments of joy they brought us than for the professional style they displayed later in their careers. A man's accomplishments only matter so much when his best moments created a legend.