Kevin Willis’ journey to a ring showed him the value of patience and hard work.
Kevin Willis is one of the greatest role players in NBA history.
He was so good, in fact, that he was an NBA All-Star and an All-NBA player back in the 1991-92 season.
But despite playing with some really good players, such as Dominique Wilkins, Hakeem Olajuwon, and a young Vince Carter, the teams he played for never did well in the playoffs.
For the entirety of the 90s, the furthest he went in the postseason was the Conference Finals in 1996-97 with the Houston Rockets, which lost to the Utah Jazz.
So, much like Karl Malone, on the cusp of turning 40, Willis started his ring-chasing campaign.
Kevin Willis Starts His Ring-Chasing Campaign
In the offseason of 2003, Willis signed a 1-year contract with the powerhouse San Antonio Spurs, who won the title 3 years back and still had the core of the team intact.
Though Willis didn’t play a lot this season (he played 71 games and averaged 4.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in 11.8 minutes per game), he did achieve his goal.
The Spurs were on something else this season and ran through all of their opponents.
In the first round, they beat a young Phoenix Suns team 4-2.
Then in the second round, they ran through their conference rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers -who were also powerhouses, by the way- and beat them 4-2.
The next round shares the same story. They beat a young and talented Dallas Mavericks team 4-2 and Willis received the opportunity to compete in his first NBA Finals.
Via The Globe and Mail:
“It was meant to happen now,” said Willis, 40. “I was close one time in Houston in 1997 and it wasn’t our time. It wasn’t my time, I should say.
“I’ve been very patient, very persistent in my work ethic, in my commitment in believing that I’d get to the Finals one day.”
Now, you may think this is rigged or whatever, like in the WWE -and I assure you that it wasn’t- but the Spurs bested their opponent, the New Jersey Nets, 4-2 in the Finals as well.
Willis, again, didn’t play that much. He played 18 of the post-season games and averaged 5 minutes per game. He held averages of 2.6 points and 1.7 rebounds.
After getting his first championship ring, Willis re-signed with the Spurs in hopes of winning another ring.
However, they failed. In the semi-finals, they lost 2-4 (coincidence?) to one of the first super teams, the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant-Gary Payton-Karl Malone Lakers.
Kevin Willis Retires
After his shortcoming, Willis returned to the Atlanta Hawks, the team that drafted him and where he played for nearly 10 years, for one more season before calling it quits and retiring in 2005.
However, after one season of R&R, Willis tried to make a comeback (like Jordan back in 2001).
Kevin Willis Un-Retires
Near the end of the 2006-07 NBA season, Willis signed a 10-day contract with the Mavericks, where he played a total of 5 games.
And as a fun side note, Willis, who was 44 years old at that time, was the oldest player in the league.
The team was first in the league with 67 wins and was slated to win the title.
But in the first round of the playoff, they were upsetted by the 8th seed “We Believe” Golden State Warriors, who beat them 4-2 (again, coincidence?).
After another upset in his old age, Willis felt he gave the game all he could and retired.
Willis was always a fan favourite for his hard work on the hardwood.
And because of that, I’m sure many people were happy that he got his championship ring.
I know I was.