Brandon Williams, the Kings’ new assistant general manager, likes to say he sipped “a cup of coffee” as a player in the NBA, which in league parlance means he made a few appearances before taking his talents elsewhere.
Huntsville. Greece. Israel. Italy. Germany. Sioux Falls was his last and one of his more memorable playing stops, mainly because he helped a young coach named Dave Joerger win the 2005 Continental Basketball Association championship.
Fast forward almost 13 years. Joerger is the Kings’ head coach. Vlade Divac is the Kings’ general manager. The respected Scott Perry is in New York, having accepted his dream job as GM of the Knicks, after his own cup of coffee in Sacramento.
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“Scott was unique,” Divac said. “I didn’t go into this looking to replace him. I wanted someone who had a lot to offer, was very organized and would fit well with what we’re doing. That’s what I found in Brandon.”
Other than the fact Perry and Williams are African American – consistent with Divac’s desire to add more diversity to his front office – their journeys to Northern California couldn’t be more dissimilar. Perry is a sage, a former college coach and longtime league personnel executive with deep contacts in high school and AAU, and whose reach extends into the far corners of the NBA. He previously worked in basketball operations in Detroit, Seattle and Orlando, and is regarded by several former players as a combination mentor-father figure.
Williams, 42, is part of the new generation of dynamic young executives who grew up with mobile devices in hand and analytics on the brain. In person he actually seems more of a scholar than technology buff, which he attributes to his parents. His mother was a teacher and principal, and when the educational rankings in Louisiana dropped to 49th percentile nationally, she sent her son from tiny Collinston, La., (population 450) to prep school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
Books and basketball. That was his life, and he excelled at both.
Davidson coach Bob McKillop – best known these days as Stephen Curry’s college coach – began recruiting Williams during his junior prep season.
“I remember one of our first summer visits (to Collinston),” McKillop said. “It was a remote place. We landed in Monroe. One of my assistants, Matt Doherty, says, ‘Boy, there’s a heckuva lot of Duke fans here.’ There were Duke signs all over, and they were blue and white, so Matt made that connection. But the signs weren’t for the Blue Devils, they were for (former Ku Klux Klan leader) David Duke. After the visit we went to a restaurant, a TGIF or an Applebee’s, and there was a political rally for David Duke in the back. We just left. We weren’t going to eat there.”
McKillop didn’t leave empty-handed, though. During the conversation with Al and Glenda Williams, as the Temptations and Four Tops played on the stereo in the background, the coach received a verbal commitment from the wiry prep school standout he considers his first significant recruit.
“When Brandon arrived (in 1992), we kind of turned the corner as a program,” the coach said. “He could play all five positions and he would make people say, ‘Wow.’ I just wish I was a better coach for him, was able to get him ready for the challenges of the NBA. But that was my first dose of success and maybe I wasn’t ready to handle it.”
Asked to describe his former player’s personality, McKillop paused. “Endearing, caring, pensive, talks a lot,” he continued slowly. “There was no sense of entitlement. He worked hard and earned everything he got, and it’s obvious he has done that in his life. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
After his itinerant pro basketball career ended with the celebration in Sioux Falls, Williams moved back into his parents’ basement, by that time at their new home in Detroit. While he was pondering his future, he was contacted by NBA officials and offered a job in player development. During the ensuing nine years in the league office – and with strong backing from former Commissioner David Stern and his successor, Adam Silver – his career arc continued to ascend, with one promotion after another.
“I had the benefit of working directly with Brandon,” Silver wrote in an email, “and know firsthand why his basketball acumen, experience and management skills are well regarded around the league. He’ll be a terrific addition to the Kings organization.”
Among his many tasks with the league, Williams helped craft the “Respect the Game” policy that imposed a dress code and was instrumental in creation of the Replay Center in Secaucus, N.J. Somewhere in there, he also found time to get married, have a baby and graduate from Rutgers law school in 3 1/2 years.
“I went to law school to boost my profile,” he explained. “People ask me all the time why I don’t practice, but the (legal training) has helped me in a number of ways. One of the things I bring to the Kings is a level of experience in organizing. At some point our job is to provide the chief decision-maker (Divac) with the key information, right? If you look at it vertically, there is analytics, strategy, salary cap, personnel and day-to-day operations. So my job is to oversee day-to-day matters and serve up information that allows Vlade to make decisions.”
Divac lured Williams from the Philadelphia 76ers, where he had been groomed by ousted basketball president Sam Hinkie, yet been among a handful of employees retained when Jerry Colangelo joined the organization as a special adviser and hired his son, Bryan, to run the club.
The senior Colangelo, who maintains close ties with Stern and Silver, gave Williams a rousing recommendation.
“Brandon kind of brings a full package in that he played in the league, he worked in the NBA office and he worked for a franchise,” Colangelo said Friday. “He has had different levels of responsibility. I would say, I think he’s a bright young guy, with a great work ethic, who loves what he does. You would stand back and say, ‘This guy has a real future.’ Another thing I really liked is that he is a good listener and, to me, a lot of the bright young guys in the league are not good listeners.”
Williams, who has two children – Bailey, 13, and Remington, 5 – certainly liked what Divac was selling. He ranks No. 2 in the Kings hierarchy and controls day-to-day operations of a club he says “is farther along then the Sixers when I arrived. There are more pieces here.” In contrast to the 76ers, where he oversaw the G-League development affiliate, he will be used more extensively in contract negotiations, trades and the often-contentious discussions with agents.
Though soft spoken and almost elegant in demeanor, with a trimmed beard and thin-rimmed glasses, the man of many suits isn’t averse to mixing it up. He already is known for putting on a pair of sweats and sneakers and participating in pickup games inside the practice facility.
“Brandon and I kept in touch,” Joerger says of his former player, “and you could always tell he was going to be successful. Just the way he carries himself. He’s honest, upfront, professional. He interacts with people really well. And he never burns any bridges. We’re lucky to have him.”