By WESLEY REMMER
SEATTLE — What a difference a year makes.
Last season Marvin Williams was forced to watch his team from the sideline, hampered by a broken hand, and the Atlanta Hawks were defeated by the Seattle SuperSonics 102-87 at Key Arena. But on Friday night, in front of 45 family and friends and more than 13,000 Seattle sports fans, Williams was healthy and dominant in his team’s 99-90 victory over the slumping Sonics.
In what became the Marvin Williams Show, the Bremerton High School grad scored a career-high 33 points on 12-for-20 shooting in Friday’s game. He also added seven rebounds and three steals to help the Hawks (18-21) snap a four-game losing streak.
“It was a big win for us,” said Williams, who amid the circus that is the Sonics’ future, wanted to play well at Key Arena. “This could be my last year ever playing up here, so I was glad I had a good game and we got a win.”
It was Williams’ third NBA game in Seattle since his selection in the 2005 NBA Draft by the Hawks, who took him with the second-overall pick. But Friday’s win was undoubtedly his most effective performance.
“It’s a nice feeling,” Williams said. “It was unfortunate not to play last year.”
Williams’ previous two visits to Key Arena, despite the buildup in returning to Seattle, were relatively lackluster. He was sidelined by a broken hand last year and scored only four points on 1-for-7 shooting in 2006.
But since the 2006 game, when he was still 19 years old, Williams’ skills have developed and players and coaches around the league are beginning to recognize him as a legitimate threat.
And after Friday’s game, Sonics players could only applaud the Bremerton sensation.
“You can see the work he’s put in to improve his game,” said Sonics’ rookie forward Jeff Green, who drew the defensive assignment on Williams. “He was moving without the ball, and when his jumper’s falling, it’s tough to guard him.”
Williams knocked down an array of medium-range jump shots, including 4-of-5 in the first quarter, and looked confident with the ball the entire game.
The exclamation mark to his performance came during the game’s waning moments as he stole the ball from swingman Wally Szczerbiak off an inbounds pass, took it the length of the court and finished with an emphatic one-handed slam.
“He’s a great talent,” said Sonics center Nick Collison, who shared the same college coach as Williams, Hall-of-Famer Roy Williams.
And though Collison played under Roy Williams at the University of Kansas, and Marvin at the University of North Carolina, Collison sees his former coach’s tendencies in Marvin’s game.
“Players take certain things away from coaches and with coach Williams it’s that the point (of the game) is to always help your team get a win,” Collison said. “Coach Williams really likes him. He plays hard, he plays unselfish.”
Even veteran center Kurt Thomas, who sees young players crumble in the limelight of the NBA every year, believes Williams will be a factor for seasons to come.
“I think he has a bright future in the league,” he said convincingly.
But even with the skills of an all-star and accolades from his teammates, opponents and coaches, Williams focuses on issues larger than the game.
“We’re all blessed to play basketball for a living,” he said. “Even if we weren’t in the NBA, we’d be playing everyday. None of us take it for granted.”
And in Atlanta, Williams has made a concerted effort to involve himself with community through charity work.
“Oh, (I do) all kinds of stuff,” Williams said of his role in the Atlanta community.
Williams and teammate Josh Childress host “Marv & Chill’s Holiday Flicks & Kicks” every year, an event designed to bring joy to disadvantaged children during the holiday season.
“We hang out with about 60 orphaned kids,” Williams said of the second annual event. “We watch movies with them and give them gifts.”
Williams works with the Atlanta chapter of the Starbright Children’s Foundation, an organization that provides entertainment and education to seriously-ill children whose lives are in danger. And he also hosts special “meet and greet” sessions on game-day’s to sign autographs and take pictures with kids who sit in his “MVP” section at the game.
“I love Atlanta, there’s so much going on,” said Williams, adding he believes it is important to get involved in community-related issues. “I do as much as I can to help out.”
Though in Atlanta for much of the year, Williams never forgets his family and friends in Bremerton.
He bought 45 tickets for last Friday’s game so his family and friends could attend and he also reserved a few tickets for Monday’s game at Portland.
“As a brother, he’s the best out there. And I’m not just saying that, he really is,” said Williams’ brother, Demetrius Gittens. “He makes sure his family is taken care of.”
Williams says the most exciting part of coming back to Seattle is getting to see the people who are most important to him.
“I saw coach (Lindberg) last night,” Williams said of Bremerton High School’s boys basketball coach, Casey Lindberg, who mentored Williams during his record-shattering stint with BHS. “He’s done so much for me in my life.”
But while there are many joys to playing the annual game in Seattle, Williams says there is a little added pressure.
“My mom (Andrea Gittens), she was in the stands and wouldn’t shut up,” he joked. “I could hear her yelling the whole game.”
The excitement surrounding Williams’ 33-point effort was unanimous among his 45 most loyal followers and didn’t stop at his mother.
“It was nice to see him put up those stats,” said friend Zach Townsend, who knows Williams through basketball and tries to catch up with him between games. “And, you know I’ve got him on my fantasy team.”
The third time back to Seattle was a charm for Williams and if Friday’s game was his last at Key Arena, at least it was memorable.
“He had a career game,” Childress said.