The 98-99 NBA season started in February of 1999, a three-month delay from the usual November tip-off and will be forever labeled as the “lock-out season”. The San Antonio Spurs then went on to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy beating the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals. Many basketball fans were disappointed with how the NBA season was shortened and but the NBA and its fans have a lot to be thankful for because that season’s rookie class somehow saved the league from falling to the pits. The rookie class consisted of Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Mike Bibby, Tyronn Lue, Rashard Lewis and PBA-import Ansu Sesay, to name a few of that very strong and talented rookie class. But one name will be remembered from that class, and that’s Jason Williams who was known as the White Chocolate. The West Virginia native was drafted 7th overall by the Sacramento Kings, and the monicker was given to him by the team’s then Media Relations assistant, Stephanie Shepherd.
The 6’1 point guard added more flavor to the crippled game of basketball during that season. I, for one, was tuned in to ESPN’s Sportscenter and NBA Action’s Top Plays of the week, because I was pretty sure there would be a Jason Williams highlight in them.
From his dazzling style of play, to his magical passing skills and his pin-point shooting ability, people were left in awe and Jason instantly became a fan favorite, not only in Sacramento, but worldwide. He achieved the top 5 slot in jersey sales in his rookie season.
To be honest, I almost lost interest in the NBA due to the shortened season, but there were three points I personally remember from that salvaged season: Vince Carter, WWJD bands and… Jason Williams.
Little did I know that more than 20 years after that season, I will be standing face-to-face with a legend of our era.
The NBA 3x Philippines kicked off last March 19 (after almost a 4-year a hiatus) at the PICC. Those who topped the divisions then went on to the finals that were held at the SM Mall of Asia Activity Center on the 26th of March. The event was filled with interactive booths care of Mountain Dew, the NBA and AXA. Fans were treated to a Celebrity 3×3 tournament, with the likes of former PBA players Vince Hizon and Willie Wilson to name a few. The Clutch City Dancers of the Houston Rockets also graced the event showcasing their dancing skills.
The main event was when Jason Williams made his appearance, he warmed up with the finalists and was gracious enough to sign a couple of memorabilia around the venue and take pictures with fans.
I seized the chance to talk with Jason and asked him who was the toughest opponent he went up against. He answered, “That’s a tough question, but I may say John Stockton, because that pick-and-roll is just so tough to guard. I know some of these kids will say ‘JOHN STOCKTON?!?!’ But yeah, John Stockton!”
I brought my daughter along with me to this event and she was able to draw an anime version of the White Chocolate the night before. When she handed the drawing to him, Jason looked at it with a smile and told her, “I wish I had the same amount of hair today, as this drawing!” Jason thanked her for it and posed with her for a picture.
As I left the venue holding my daughter’s hand, I told her that she was very lucky to have met one of the most important basketball players of the 90’s, and she just looked at their picture with a big smile on her face.
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