It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The headline should have read, “Local Hero Comes Home to a Sell-Out Crowd” in Patrick Williams’ first return to Charlotte as a member of the Chicago Bulls. But then, nothing is going as planned these days.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting the landscapes of both sports and life, the Spectrum Center was limited to players and team personnel, so Williams’ Jan. 22 Charlotte homecoming was witnessed by a TV audience instead of a roaring crowd in attendance.
In the last of his four years playing varsity basketball at West Charlotte High School, Williams led the team to the 2019 4A boys basketball state championship game. He was named Mecklenburg County Player of the Year by the Charlotte Observer.
Williams was a five-star recruit and played one year at Florida State University, where he was named ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year before declaring for the NBA Draft. Originally thought of as a mid-first round prospect, his status rose in the last few weeks before the draft and on Nov. 18, 2020, the Chicago Bulls selected him with the fourth pick.
They liked the package of a solid NBA body at 6’8” and 225 pounds, as well as the potential for growth in his game as a young small forward with multiple skills.
His mother Janie Young-Williams recalled that Patrick was always into sports, playing both basketball and football growing up. He was a great wide receiver, but basketball won out, helped along by a stunning growth spurt between 9th and 10th grades.
Both of Patrick’s parents played college basketball, Janie for Johnson C. Smith University here in Charlotte. When asked if he inherited his skills from them, she replied, “We like to think so.”
Growing up in the Double Oaks neighborhood in Charlotte’s North End, Janie recalled that Patrick Williams was a good kid and never caused many problems. Beginning when he got his learner’s permit in high school, Patrick started to work at Janie’s flower shop, Williams Florist, doing delivery, pick-ups and anything else his mom needed done around the store.
According to Janie, working there was a shared idea. She said to him, “If you want money, mama got a whole lot of work you can do.” He worked at the shop until he graduated high school. Upon his selection by the Bulls last November, ESPN showed a clip of him delivering flowers.
At a Zoom media session before his first game in his hometown on Jan. 22, Williams said, “It’s always good to come back to Charlotte. I got to see my family a little bit, or at least as much as you can with all of the restrictions. Charlotte is home and will always be home, but for me, I’ve looked at it as just another road trip and another game we have to take care of.”
One of Patrick Williams favorite parts of returning to Charlotte? Bojangles. “I’m definitely ready to get some Bojangles’ if I can,” he said that Friday afternoon, also mentioning Cookout as a favored spot.
He offered he wasn’t sure about all the rules regarding COVID-19 because they change so often from city to city, but before he got on the flight back to Chicago, he wanted to stop at the Charlotte-born chicken chain. He said he told other players on the team about it, and that, “Bojangles is the favorite place to go every time we come here.”
Williams has already garnered some notice for his play, including from LeBron James after he guarded him the first time the Bulls played the Lakers. “I think he is going to be an exceptional talent. Chicago has a good one,” James was quoted as saying after the game.
Williams reacted to the praise saying, “Just for somebody of that stature to say anything about my game is always a blessing.”
His most difficult adjustment so far has been the travel, Williams said.
“The hardest transition is the constant travel and how often the games come up,” he said before the Jan. 22 game. “We play tonight, and we’ve got to fly back to Chicago and refocus for a tough Lakers team tomorrow. The hard part for me is locking in every game, every day.”
In his homecoming debut against the Hornets, Williams scored four points and grabbed six rebounds in 16 minutes of play. So far in this young season, Williams has proved to be a tough matchup on the defensive end of the court, while showing promise with his offensive game. He’s averaging nearly 10 points and 3.7 boards per game.
As for where he sees his career taking him, Williams said, “I just want to be a really good player, whatever that looks like. I want to impact the team in many ways, defensively, offensively, anyway I can. I’m super-excited to see what that looks like five to seven years down the road, and to see the progress that I have made from day one. It’s my first year, so I’m ready for the process.”
When comparing his new city to Charlotte, he said, “The obvious difference is Chicago is way colder, just getting used to that, just getting used to the cold,” as he chuckled. “Other than that, the city is amazing. I love both cities. I can’t really pick one over the other.”
Whenever he needs the warmth and love of his hometown, it will be there for him, alongside a fresh box of Bojangles. And hopefully sometime in the future, there will be fans in the seats to cheer the local kid on when he returns home.
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