BROOKLINE, Mass. — He had had two hours of sleep when he rose at 5:30 a.m. last Tuesday to catch the shuttle flight to Boston.
"There were a lot of people over at the house last (Monday) night and there were a lot of phone calls," Ray Williams said. "I'm still trying to get over it. I didn't get to sleep until 3:30. I had to find someone to watch the house while I was away and take care of the dogs and the birds."
Once such proprietary interests were taken care of, Williams returned to doing what he does best--playing basketball. Less than five hours after awakening in his New Jersey home, he was on the floor of Hellenic College going through his first workout with the Boston Celtics. An unsigned free agent with the New York Knicks, Williams signed a $125,000 offer sheet with the Celtics. The team gave the Knicks two second-round draft picks (1985 and '86) in exchange for not matching the offer.
Williams, had a brief physical examination after being picked up at the airport and ran through the plays with his new teammates, pausing briefly during the 90-minute practice to have a stiff back massaged. Before leaving for another examination later in the day, he got mobbed by a media crowd unprecedented for a midweek practice.
"What is this, Media Day?" assistant coach Chris Ford asked.
"Give him time to get in shape and understand our system," Dennis Johnson said. "I think he'll have it down in a little matter of time. Any new addition always takes time."
Williams said all the right things. He wasn't mad at the Knicks (which few believed) because, as he put it, "the ball wasn't in my hands. Teams were intimidated dealing with New York and thought it would be a wasted effort."
He also said it felt good to be back in the game, to be on a team that has an excellent shot to win the championship, and that he felt he would be able to play Wednesday night against San Antonio (in uniform No.20.)
"It shouldn't be too difficult to adjust to the new situation," Williams said. "They play so many big guys, if I get in trouble, all I've got to do is throw it up there and let them grab it."
Nearly nine months of unforced idleness hasn't dulled Williams' sense of humor, nor, the Celtics hope, his talent. This is a power play on Boston's part. The Celtics were able to stick it to the Knicks, a team that had invested $900,000 in Williams ($500,000 in salary and $400,000 in cash to Kansas City), while also improving the one weakness on their team at virtually no cost.
Has Boston one-upped Philadelphia, which had taken care of its sore spot with Charles Barkley? Is the balance of power now tipped in Boston's direction?
"It's hard to say," Washington Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry said. "I think Ray Williams has the potential to really help the Celtics. The big thing about Ray Williams is that he can win games for you. Of course, like any new addition, there's the potential that it could do harm. But I don't think it will."
Nor Atlanta Hawks General Manager Stan Kasten.
"If Ray just plays up to 80 percent of what he did in the past, he will help them," Kasten said. "I think he's going to be an improvement over what they have, no question about that."
And he's a veteran, in his eighth season. Boston has added a proven (if streaky) NBA player who, for the first time in his career, won't be asked to be one of the major breadwinners on the club.
"That takes a lot of the pressure off," Williams said. "The majority of time in my career I've been on teams where more was expected of me because we didn't have the proper personnel."
The one unanswerable question is how long will it take for Williams, who looked a bit overweight, to get into playing shape.
Williams said he has done what he could, working out, running on a treadmill. His brother, Gus, who sat out a year in Seattle, helped him through some of the tough emotional times. He had gone to the Bahamas to run on the beaches and to play basketball, telling his mother he might as well "because nothing is going on up here."
Three weeks ago, that all changed. His mother told him a Red Auerbach had called from Boston. His mother did not know who Red Auerbach was but had taken down a return number with a Boston area code.
"I was still skeptical," Williams said. "You don't know if someone is just playing a game."
His mother asked him if was going to think some more or dial the number. Williams picked up the phone, made the call and got the Boston Celtics on the other end.
"I hope it turns out to be more than just a month and a half," Williams said. "I hope things work out that I stay here for the rest of my career."