Not even a subpar performance in the Washington Bullets' 109-94 loss to the SuperSonics here Tuesday night could detract from the continued outpouring of affection by this city's residents toward guard Gus Williams.
Although he scored only 11 points on five-of-21 shooting, Williams was still the hottest commodity in the Pacific Northwest, with television stations even covering a two-hour Washington practice.
For Williams' return, the SuperSonics drew their second-largest crowd of the season -- 12,203 -- in the Kingdome (playfully referred to by Williams' teammates as the "Wiz-Dome"). Many came out to see Williams embarrass his former teammates. But just the opposite happened.
Slighted by the seemingly never-ending stories regarding Williams' departure, the SuperSonics -- in particular, guards Gerald Henderson (18 points, eight assists) and Ricky Sobers (17 points, six assists) -- played perhaps their finest game of the season.
"All the stories were talking about how poor the team was and how much they missed Gus, what else could they do but play a great game?" said Bernie Bickerstaff, Bullets assistant coach.
Today, Williams was perhaps as outgoing and happy as he's been all season. "It's no secret that I wanted to come back here and have a great game against the Sonics but it just didn't happen," he said. "It's easy to say that all the hoopla bothered me and I was nervous and anxious but it's not as if the Sonics have never seen me play that way before."
According to Williams, the scenes of the past three days were reminiscent of his return to the SuperSonics after sitting out the 1980-81 season because of a contract dispute.
"Then they had a press conference for me at a restaurant and the people were just hanging around outside of it," said Williams, who was traded from Seattle to Washington before this season. "I'm not sure why they feel the way they do about me. From what I hear, they think that I'm down to earth.
"People in the media like to write about how I'm a loner and keep to myself. The fans see that, too, but somehow they accept it and it draws me closer to them. For me, that makes the relationship even more special."
The hoopla surrounding Williams overshadowed the return of Bullets forward Cliff Robinson following a 15-game absence because of problems in his right leg. Playing 33 minutes, Robinson tied Greg Ballard as the team's top scorer with 18 points and had a team-high 10 rebounds.
When asked about his lengthy playing time, Robinson smiled and said, "I was surprised that I could play for so long. I take good care of my body, to be able to play 33 minutes means I must be in some kind of shape."
It was first thought that Robinson would not play until the second or third game of the Bullets' six-game road trip. But that changed, according to Robinson, when the team gathered in Seattle.
"We practiced for an hour and a half of Monday and it felt okay," he said. "Better than I thought. Then, after the shoot-around on Tuesday, I went swimming. After that, I decided to give it a go."
Robinson experienced a couple of anxious moments against Seattle. Early in the game, he was poked in the eye while getting a rebound. Later, he took a pass underneath the basket, and his only option was to take off flat-footed from where he stood. Although he made the basket and was fouled on the play, the effort wasn't as simple as it looked.
"The play was there so I decided to go for it. I didn't even think about the leg but I know I barely got up over the rim," Robinson said. "Then, when I came down, it was kind of like, 'Oh, oh,' but it didn't turn out to be so bad."
Charles Jones, signed to a 10-day contract on Tuesday, had his first practice with the team here today. The 6-foot-9 forward ran through some basic plays with Bickerstaff and Tom McMillen, then took part in a full-court scrimmage.