LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Shortly after plopping down on his seat, Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams turned the Zoom conference call into a confessional booth.
This marked the first time he spoke publicly about stopping at an Atlanta strip club to pick up wings after receiving approval to leave the NBA bubble to attend a friend’s funeral.
“In hindsight, I think as far as the public safety issue goes, I probably could’ve made a better quality decision,” Williams said following the Clippers’ 117-115 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. “I was a little naïve in that aspect.”
Williams spoke in a remorseful tone with an occasional crack in his voice.
He had attended the funeral of a close mentor, Paul G. Williams, whom Lou Williams called “the first Black man I looked up to with legal money in my life.”
Then Williams stopped by Magic City, a strip club that he has touted in past interviews for its wings. Williams contends he only went there for takeout, and photographs that leaked on social media showed him wearing a mask. Yet, the NBA ruled that Williams had to spend an additional 10 days in quarantine because he had been exposed to a large group of people outside of the league’s Disney campus.
“I truly was grieving two weeks ago. I was going through something and then I was thrown under the bus,” Williams said. “Everything the attention turned to Magic City because it’s a gentleman’s club. I feel like if I was at a steakhouse or Hooters or whatever, it probably wouldn’t have been half the story. But it is what it is. It was difficult to go through that.”
Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams reacts to a foul call during Tuesday's game against the Phoenix Suns. (Photo: Kevin C. Cox, Pool Photo/USA TODAY Sports)
Not only did Williams receive scrutiny for potentially jeopardizing the NBA’s safety, he sparked ridicule on social media via his explanation that he attended Magic City just for its takeout wings. Inevitably, speculative memes flooded social media on other presumed reasons Williams went to Magic City.
Former NBA basketball player Kendrick Perkins, now an ESPN analyst, critiqued Williams for his behavior, saying that New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson showed more maturity than the 33-year-old veteran. Williamson spent only four days in quarantine after he received approval to leave the Disney campus to attend to what the Pelicans called “an urgent family medical manner.” That sparked the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell to defend Williams publicly on Twitter.
It’s disturbing when a Rookie in Zion Williamson can act more Mature than NBA vet Lou Williams!!! https://t.co/FlWgDBEXRU
“I just did something that was routine for me. I frequent that place at that time, 5:30-6 o’clock in the afternoon,” Williams said. “At the time, I thought I was making a responsible decision. After looking back on it with everything going on in the world with the pandemic, maybe it wasn’t the best quality decision. So I chalk it up to that, take my ‘L’ and keep moving.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers admitted news about Williams’ whereabouts is "something we obviously didn’t enjoy seeing." But Rivers also said that Williams’ trip “wasn’t intended to be a mistake.”
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Rivers has also expressed sympathy for his roster, which has dealt with adversities in the early going in the bubble.
Clippers guard Landry Shamet and center Ivica Zubac initially missed the beginning of the restarted training camp after testing positive for the coronavirus. Beverley was excused before the season restart because of an undisclosed family issue. Harrell has yet to join the team after the recent death of his grandmother.
“We’re having real-life issues in the world and it’s on the front of a page to see the decisions you’re making outside of that. It’s difficult,” Williams said. “But it’s part of the landscape. You understand that people are going to say their things. People are going to print their things. Imaginations are going to run wild. We deal with these things and keep moving.”
Williams made a first step in moving forward by appearing in Tuesday’s loss on a minutes restriction that Rivers said beforehand “will be guided by his lungs mostly.” Williams finished with seven points on 3-of-8 shooting in 21 minutes off the bench, a sharp dip from his season average of 29.3 minutes per game.
“He was OK,” Rivers said. “Obviously he didn’t have great timing. But he played more minutes than I thought he could. I was happy with that.”
Williams returned to the NBA’s Disney campus on July 25 and spent the next 10 days in quarantine. That coincided with the Clippers’ first two games, including a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers and a win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
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During that time, Williams used a treadmill and stationary bike in his room. He also watched practices via Zoom, and even remarked one time about the need for the team to pick up its conditioning. Other than that, Rivers mused that Williams “probably watched a lot of TV.”
Williams said he “just attacked it with a positive mind.” Once Williams cleared quarantine, the Clippers had him work out at a gym Tuesday while the team completed a morning walk-through. Rivers then had Williams suit up because “I’m always a ‘throw a guy-on-the-floor’ guy.”
“I needed it,” Williams said. “I don’t know if I was going to be able to just watch that game with spending the last 10 days by myself and being isolated watching so much good basketball.”
Williams also needed it after experiencing what he called “an extremely difficult” time over his mentor’s death and criticism for his Magic City visit.
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