In 2001, the Atlanta Hawks were in their first season without Dikembe Mutombo and Steve Smith. Atlanta basketball was on the decline. Around that time, there was a 5’10 guard from Snellville, Georgia by the name of Lou Williams.
Nobody was prepared for the–then–14-year old to resuscitate the waning interest in the sport of basketball in the entire city.
But, he did.
While the Hawks were fresh off of trading away the rights to Pau Gasol and struggling to win ball games, the young man from South Gwinnett High School was filling gyms and leaving a trail of carnage.
He wasn’t physically imposing, but he was remarkably skilled and extraordinarily athletic. He dunked on fast breaks. He broke down his defenders with his handle and quickness. At that moment, as a 9th grade kid in high school, he was better than everyone else, and everyone else knew it.
His explosive freshman season was followed by rumors of his departure. Once again Atlanta basketball fans were on the verge of having the life zapped right out of them. But, Williams turned down the calls of powerhouse prep school programs and allowed Atlanta basketball fans to hold on to the last string of faith they had in the sport.
That next year he grew a few inches dominated a little more and filled even more gyms and left behind even more carnage. The restless fans were rewarded for their patience in 2004 when Louis Williams led his high school team to a state championship. He was the cities team. Many local fans rooted for their alma mater, but still hoped that Williams would continue to dazzle.
There was his 50 point gem. His 43 point explosion that consisted of nine three pointers and eight dunks. The city was a buzz and he kept it afloat while the Hawks sunk lower and lower.
He was denied another title in his senior season. Yet, hope stood when Williams announced his intentions to attend the University of Georgia, a college close enough for the local fans to commute. That hope came and went. Williams quickly announced his intentions to enter the NBA draft. Early predictions had him going in the first round, from 7-28, out of range for the Hawks.
Atlanta fans watched on from their homes as team after team passed on their hometown hero. And after the final pick in the first round with Williams still on the board, Hawks fans had tumultuous feelings.
Fox News cut to clips of a disappointed Williams watching on with family and friends. He had obviously not expected to be without a team as the second round rolled around. But, the avid Atlanta basketball fans had their fingers crossed once more. Could the Hawks possibly land Williams with the first pick in the 2nd round of the 2005 NBA draft?
No, they couldn’t. Instead, they selected Salim Stoudamire, compounding their first-round mistake of selecting power forward Marvin Williams out of North Carolina over top-tier point guard prospects, Deron Williams and Chris Paul.
The only thing that kept Atlanta Hawks fans from depression was the acquisition of Joe Johnson from the Phoenix Suns. This found the Hawks back in the playoffs after a long hiatus.
Now fast forward to present time, Hawks fans were fed up with Johnson’s disappearing acts in the post-season. He was traded this summer. This left Hawks fans in disarray. Yet, again with little faith in the basketball team and several YouTube rants to prove it, Lou Williams was acquired by the Atlanta Hawks. They finally corrected the mistake they made 7 years prior.
With their faith on the decline, once again Hawks fans will look to Lou Williams to put the city on his shoulders. This time he isn’t a gangly 14-year old kid. He is a 6’2 versatile guard, with extraordinary athleticism and NBA pedigree. Atlanta fans are fully aware of what he can do. Their expectations are high and their arms are opened wide, welcoming the hometown hero back like he had never been gone.