Spencer Dinwiddie got a chance to turn the tables on Dr. Riley Williams, the Nets medical director, asking how HE’s feeling in a video posted this week by the Hospital for Special Surgery. The result is a 17-minute discussion between a doctor and patient —Williams performed Dinwiddie’s hand surgery— who also share an L.A. background.
Dinwiddie, from Woodlands Hills, and Williams, from South Central, talked about a lot of things: from Williams early days as the New Jersey Nets team doctor to his favorite players —and moments— to how the Brooklyn move changed the organization to his role as a mentor, not just a physician. He touched as well as on the mental aspect of recovery for an athlete ... and the Nets decision to test their players and staff.
Here’s the video...
Reminiscing about his first years in New Jersey, starting with the 2004-05 season, Williams spoke about the difficulties of playing in the Garden State...
“One night, straight up, there were 800 people in the arena, man. It was brutal. It was tough.
“The whole dynamic, Spence, has changed. I won’t name a whole lot of names, but straight up, people who would get traded to New Jersey ... in addition to the physical, I used to have to do a visit to the psychologist because it was rough, man! It was rough over here for the doctor!
Still, Williams notes, he has some fond memories of players he interacted with while in New Jersey, saying of Vince Carter...
“Vince had a good run with us. A super nice guy. Just a gem of a human being. Really good to see him last. Man, talk about lasting. He’s been in the league as long as I’ve been a doctor! and still bringing it too. I always said about Vince, people ask, what’s he like. He knows how to measure himself. He’s always got a little gas left in the tank. He could probably go another few years.”
The Nets did well (even though they had to pass on signing Shareef Abdur-Rahim, based on Williams advice) but then as he said, things went “sideways” until the move to Brooklyn.
“Brooklyn was super great ... you could just tell. The building, the location, just the energy of the city. I mentioned the 800 people in the arena. You never had to go too far to get people interested in coming to the Barclays Center.“
Then, things changed again in 2016 when Sean Marks arrived. Dr. Williams recalled his first meeting with the new GM, offering with a straight face the one small concern he had.
“When Sean Marks took over and we were kinda spit-balling what his vision was, I definitely took a step back and said, ‘you know, this is going to be different.’ And I had a little bit of concern about having so many smart people in the room, but it seems to work. I’m super impressed with the value they’ve been able to create.”
Dr. Williams also discussed how he sees his role as more than just a physician. He’s often engaged with players on personal level, perhaps in part because he and the players both dreamed a bigger dream. (Williams and Joe Tsai overlapped at Yale.) He pointed to a particularly rewarding exchange he had with D’Angelo Russell.
“When i come across interesting young men, you guys are always interesting to talk to, and exchange with. Your former backcourt mate D’Angelo Russell is a very fond memory because you both came in and you both had had your issues and he at one point said something to me that resonates, like ‘Man, Doc, I feel like I got two dads,” and I was like, ‘Whoa!’
“One of the reasons I think I lasted, besides the fact that I’m a decent surgeon, is that I’m genuinely interested in you guys. There’s no way, shape or form when I was your age or younger that I thought this would happen. and it’s sort of happened organically, and the interest is genuine to me. I treat you like family. and try to give you best advice I can.”
Asked about how the Nets dealt —and are still dealing— with the COVID-19 crisis— Williams paid great credit to one of his colleagues who’s on staff of both HSS and the Nets medical unit. Dr. Michael Farber was with the team when the NBA suspended play on March 11 and traveled with team on their charter from San Francisco to Brooklyn. Farber also advised the Nets on getting players tested. That decision may have been controversial at the time but Dr. Williams said his and the organization’s top priority was always about health and safety.
“We were kind of at the front of this thing, along with Utah, as far as testing our players and getting the word out that this was a developing issue. I think the take-home message is, everyone is super concerned with player well being and welfare, and that any solution that comes down the pike, we’ll put player health and safety at the forefront.”
Dr. Williams spoke optimistically about the prospects for a COVID-19 vaccine, saying he thought we might see one in the fourth quarter of this year.