*John “Hot Rod” Williams, who made his mark coming off the bench for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 1986 to 1995, died Friday in a Baton Rouge hospital from complications related to prostate cancer, according to his agent, Mark Bartelstein. He was 53.
“He was “obviously a guy who could have started for many teams but had a role as a sixth man in Cleveland and was loved by his teammates,” Bartelstein said. “Those were special teams and the only thing that stopped them from winning a championship was probably Michael Jordan.”
The 6-foot-11 Williams was a key player for the 1988-89 Cavs, who went 57-25 during the regular season, only to be eliminated by Jordan’s last-second jump shot in Game 5 of the first-round series.
Williams averaged 11 points and 6.8 rebounds for his NBA career. During the 1989-90 season, he averaged 16.8 points and 8.1 rebounds. The Cavs made the playoffs in seven of Williams’ seasons in Cleveland, advancing as far as the Eastern Conference finals in 1992, when his team again lost to the Jordan’s Bulls.
Williams was born in Louisiana and was given his nickname by his family for the enginelike sounds he made as he moved about as a baby. He played at Tulane and left as its second all-time scorer. Tulane had four winning seasons and two NIT appearances with Williams, who averaged 16 points and seven rebounds for the Green Wave.
Tulane’s point-shaving scandal took place while Williams was there, and the program was disbanded by the university from 1985 to 1988. Williams was among three players initially arrested, but he was never convicted. Prosecutors said players accepted money from gamblers in exchange for keeping the Tulane’s point total artificially low in certain games.
Bartelstein called Williams a man of “great character.”
“For people that really understand the story of what happened at Tulane, he was taken advantage of by people who were far more sophisticated, but there was a reason he was proven innocent and it’s because he was,” Bartelstein said. “Nobody cared about winning more than ‘Hot Rod’ Williams. I represented him his whole career. His teammates know that. If you know the man, it’s not even fathomable he’d be involved in things he was accused of. He was a very simple guy who loved the game.”
Williams spent his first nine NBA seasons with Cleveland, then closed his career with shorter stints in Phoenix and Dallas, last playing in 1999.
Below, one of Hot Rod’s last interviews: