SAN ANTONIO, FEB. 11 -- After 61 weeks of inaction, John Williams will again play basketball for the Washington Bullets, here Tuesday night against the San Antonio Spurs.

His activation today to NBA duty came after months of cajoling, pleading, threats, recriminations, reconciliations, weight watches and clauses and withheld money.

Finally, Coach Wes Unseld got medical clearance for Williams from team physicians Friday afternoon. Basically, it wasn't until then that the fifth-year forward was able to maintain the 260-pound weight goal set by the Bullets' doctors, though the team had said last month he had reached it.

Williams's return provides the Bullets (21-27) a player who, when healthy, often was their best, one they've missed dearly since he tore the ligaments in his right knee Dec. 2, 1989, against Utah. He did not have reconstructive surgery, as all-star forward Bernard King did six years ago.

Unseld told Williams of the decision as the two flew from Baltimore today on the last day of the all-star break to play the Midwest Division-leading Spurs (32-13).

"I was shocked," Williams said. "I knew I was close to getting activated.

"I've tried to maintain the weight and tried to lose weight. The last time I weighed in, it really wasn't much of a difference, two or three pounds. I know I still have a way to go."

He got a final weekend's worth of workouts with assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik before the Bullets made it official.

"Everyone has done everything they possibly can do with John up to this point," Bzdelik said. "Now it's a question of going out there and playing basketball."

Williams's activation has its financial rewards as well. When he steps on the floor the team will owe him $736,000 in back pay, withheld since June for failing to rehabilitate physically.

That began a spiral of miscommunication and noncommunication between him and the team. In August, General Manager John Nash and Unseld went to Los Angeles, where Williams was spending the summer, to meet with him and his agent, Fred Slaughter.

An agreement for Williams to resume workouts under the supervision of Lakers physician Steve Lombardo was arranged. But Williams, citing the death of a close friend and a stroke suffered by his father, stopped going after a couple of sessions.

He then missed training camp and the club's mandatory physical. At that point, club owner Abe Pollin got involved, calling Williams in mid-October and reopening discussions. Williams returned to Washington the day before the Bullets' season opener.

Since then he has dropped 38 pounds. In addition to extra workout sessions with strength coach Dennis Householder, Williams continued his knee's rehabilitation.

"I was doing the things that Dennis was asking me to do," Williams said. "Things couldn't get any worse. I was all the way at the bottom of my career, and there's no way up but up. I just tried to stay focused on trying to get back and trying to get my career back, and get back on the court."

There are no medical limitations to his playing time, or playing back-to-back games.

"Basketball-wise, he's not going to be up with the rest of the guys," Unseld said. "Condition-wise, he's not there. Neither is Ledell {Eackles}. . . . {Williams} will play limited minutes based on how I think he looks and how he feels. I will play him when the need arises to play him. As long as the marching orders are to still win as many games as possible, I don't know. There may be times when he needs work, but it won't come at the expense of winning."

Williams will not be expected to contribute in a major way immediately. Unlike previous seasons, when he may have played four and sometimes all five positions, now he likely will be almost exclusively a power forward. That gives the Bullets Williams, Mark Alarie and Pervis Ellison in reserve.

"If we were able to do what we did the first half of the year without John Williams," King said, "then certainly with the addition -- and granted, it's going to take him a long time to feel his way along -- that's going to help."

Ironically, after waiting so long for Williams, and having to make a roster decision upon his return, the Bullets now don't have to do that right away, because guards Darrell Walker and Haywoode Workman are both on the injured list. Workman came come off after Friday's game at Dallas; Walker is out at least another two weeks.

Those injuries, however, haven't had the effect on the franchise that Williams's injury did.

"They knew what was best for me as far as the injury," he said. "I didn't know. The only thing I had to do was whatever they said to do. I knew it was the right thing. . . .

"I'm so nervous. It's like starting all over again. I was happy to hear the good news. I want to go out there and see where I stand, see how I fare and see how far I have to go. I know I've got a long way to go. But I've got to start somewhere."