Video tributes are a staple in the world of sports.
In most scenarios, video compilations of athletes are used to honor a late player, an iconic figure’s retirement, or saluting an important former player returning to the city for the first time.
On the eve of Thanksgiving Day this year, the Cavaliers took the first timeout to play a video tribute to the greatest player in the franchise’s history and one of the greatest basketball players ever, LeBron James. During Kobe Bryant’s 2015-16 retirement tour, many away arenas, including Atlanta, saluted Bryant with a video montage. It’s just the way the game works.
Recent Atlanta players have received video tributes, and for good reason. Joe Johnson and Al Horford’s videos probably caused the most mixed reactions from the Atlanta crowd because of a situations surrounding their exits from the franchise.
In the midst of the Hawks getting swept by the Orlando Magic in the second round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs, Johnson said that he couldn’t “care less” if the fans showed up after they booed him in Game 3. A couple of months later, he signed (through no fault of his own) one of the more absurd contracts in recent NBA history.
Horford decided to sign with the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2016, hours after the Hawks signed Dwight Howard. Horford announced the move via Twitter immediately.
Later that same night, a quote from Horford’s father came out that the move was motivated by a lack of fan support in Atlanta. His father also said that Horford alluded to his experiences playing in Boston on the road in his career, and being somewhat jealous of how passionate the city’s fans were. Three days after being scrutinized by Hawks fans on social media, Horford posted this heartfelt, two-sentence screenshot on Twitter.
A day after Horford’s message, Kent Bazemore, who at the time re-signed with the team for less money than other teams offered him, took out a full-page ad in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to thank the fans. The thank you note was three paragraphs detailing his free agency decision, and what the city of Atlanta has meant to him in his career. He finished the letter by giving an update of his foundation’s fundraising events to end that summer. A day later, Horford took out a sincere full-page ad himself thanking the city of Atlanta in 10 lines.
Horford and all five of the January 2015 Eastern Conference Player of the Month received video tributes upon their return. Fan favorite and longtime Hawk Zaza Pachulia also received a tribute.
The tributes, however, became a little more loose beginning last season for the Hawks.
The team gave Tim Hardaway, Jr. a player who’s probably more remembered for the dance he did than his actual play in Atlanta, a video tribute after he averaged a whopping 14.5 points a game in the 2016-17 season.
Then came the Howard tribute.
After spending just one season with the Hawks, Howard returned to Atlanta with a video tribute, which would go on to produce one of the more popular “Inside The NBA” memes on the Internet.
Despite the reaction to give Howard, and seemingly every other former Hawk, a tribute, the franchise decided that it was a good idea to honor Marvin Williams with one this past Sunday.
Williams was traded by the Hawks six years ago to the Utah Jazz. He returns to Atlanta often now, as a member of the Charlotte Hornets in the Southeast division, as he has for the last five seasons.
The explained reasoning for the delayed tribute was that the franchise was celebrating its 50th year playing in Atlanta. Hawks PA announcer Ryan Cameron read some of Williams’ bio during one of the first timeouts of the game as images of Williams in Hawks’ uniforms panned across the new mega screens inside of State Farm Arena.
Williams turned around from the Hornets huddle at the conclusion of the video and waved at various fans in the still fairly empty arena in the first quarter. Many fans didn’t file into State Farm until late in the second half after the Atlanta United’s semifinal game next door. The crowd reaction was the combination of light claps you’d expect from such a strange gesture. There were also a couple of random boos thrown in there.
“I was told about it before the game,” Williams said. “I definitely want to say thank you, obviously, to the Atlanta Hawks organization. The city of Atlanta has always been very welcoming to me and my family since the day that I got drafted here. The people in the community, the people in the organization continue to be welcoming whenever I come back. They gave me an opportunity to live my dream, and I’m forever thankful for those guys.”
Williams was a part of the starting unit that broke through and ended the Hawks’ playoff drought in 2008, and he’s been serviceable enough to stay in the league longer than draft classmate Deron Williams has. He scored 20 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in the Hornets’ 124-123 loss against the Hawks on Sunday. Still, Williams represents a large stain in the franchise’s history.
After spending one season coming off the bench at UNC, Williams’ size and “tremendous potential” made him the No. 2 pick of the 2005 NBA Draft over future Hall of Famer Chris Paul. The Hawks eventually got its lead guard later that summer, netting Joe Johnson in a sign-and-trade deal with the Phoenix Suns.
The original plan was to transition the 6-foot-7 guard into the floor general role that Magic Johnson perfectly matched in his prime. Atlanta apparently gave up on that experiment quickly, as the team signed Speedy Claxton the next summer when it was clear Joe Johnson didn’t have quite the same playmaking skills Magic Johnson had.
As the Hawks try to move into a new era with a new practice facility, renovated arena and Trae Young, they decided to celebrate one of their most infamous decisions — six years after he left the team.