It might or might not be true, as the old English proverb has it, that revenge is a dish best eaten cold, but the idea may be appealing to Gus Williams of the Washington Bullets.
Slowed by a strained adductor tendon in his right leg incurred Nov. 30 against Detroit, Williams' return to the Bullets coincided with the club's four-game losing streak three weeks ago. Although not noticeably hampered, Williams played poorly as Washington lost seven of nine games.
In that span, Williams' field goal average hovered around the 40 percent mark, with some of his attempts ill-advised, at best.
And, although he set an NBA record for career steals during the same period, the 10-year veteran came under criticism from Gene Shue for what the coach called an unaggressive attitude on defense.
Throughout, Williams' demeanor was remarkably like the one he's carried over the past three games, each one a Washington victory. Williams averaged 26.3 points in that series of games, including 37, which tied his season high, against the Atlanta Hawks Friday. (The team doesn't play again until Thursday night, at Cleveland.)
Perhaps more important, his scoring has come within the scheme of the offense. His 53 shots from the field in the team's winning streak (he made 30), were just two more than Jeff Malone, his running mate at guard.
But Williams is philosophical. "I know I'll be criticized again before the end of the season," he said.
"I've been in the league too long to not know what's gonna happen. When I play, I'm just trying to do my job; that's all I can do, the things I have some control over. Anything else just falls the way it falls."
By that, Williams might have been alluding to the injury that kept him out for four games. Although he acknowledges that, "No one goes through 82 games at 100 percent; it's just the nature of the game," Williams has expressed surprise at how the injury, at one time thought to be minor, inhibited him.
But injuries and other distractions haven't changed his attitude. He has remained the quintessential basketball machine, playing the game with concentration and eliminating distraction.
After missing the entire 1980-81 season because of a contract dispute with the Seattle SuperSonics, Williams returned the following season and averaged 23.4 points a game to win the NBA's comeback-player-of-the-year award.
Yet, meeting with the media before receiving the trophy, Williams seemed distressed, almost uncomfortable with the honor.
Indeed, he seemed to agree with those who said he didn't warrant the award because he had missed the previous season by choice and was, therefore, not really "coming back."
"I don't really understand the criteria used to give the award," he said at the time. "All I did was play basketball."
There are those who have felt Williams' attitude is uncaring. One NBA assistant coach said recently, "I'll never understand his sitting out that season. His team had recently won the championship (two seasons earlier) and they definitely could have used him during the time he was out. I don't know what kind of team player would have done that."
Now, as then, Williams remains calm, although rarely introspective. "I feel fortunate enough that I learned that you can't let outside influences disrupt what I do out on the basketball court," he said. "Coaches and teammates can criticize, but that's constructive."
That doesn't mean Williams is indifferent to what fans and others say about him or his attitude. "I'm not saying that I don't care what people think, about me or how I play," he said. "I would hope that people like me for what I am.
"I try to be a good person. It's just that I can't go out and play before 7,000 people who each want me to be something different.
"It would be silly for me to try and assume 7,000 different personalities, wouldn't it? I can only be myself."