DENVER – It has been a constant fight for Portland Trail Blazers guard Elliot Williams to stay healthy during his brief three-year NBA career. But it pales in comparison to what his mother had to fight for so many years.
And that's why he won't stop fighting.
Williams' mother, Delois, recently lost her 12-year battle with cancer on April 3. The news came as a shock to family and friends, Williams said. It wasn't suppose to be her time.
“Man, it's tough,” Williams said with a deep pause immediately followed. “When somebody so close to you leaves you, it's a reality check. It's kind of hard to believe I have to grow up without her.”
The Trail Blazers told Williams to take as much time away as he needed to deal with his tragic loss.
“You express your condolences and give them space and time to do what they need to do and comfort them in anyway you can,” Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts said. “People need their space in those type of situations.”
Williams is the youngest of four kids, making him the baby. And Delois loved her baby. Their relationship and connection ran as deep as the ocean. They formed a bond that was unique. It was a genuine friendship.
Delois was first diagnosed with breast cancer when Williams was in the sixth grade. The cancer later went into remission but resurfaced and started to spread while Williams was a freshman at Duke. After his freshman year, he transferred to Memphis University in his hometown to be closer to his mother during her fight.
Although extremely sensitive and personal, Williams recalled what it was like to to go back home and bury his own mother last week.
“It was tough,” he said. “That's my mom. But I had to look at it a different way: She's in a better place now. She's not suffering anymore. I know she's not suffering. I got a chance to talk to her before she passed away and I let her know how I felt. I'm just so glad she's not suffering anymore.”
Delois' fight with cancer has put things in perspective for Williams as he faces his fight of staying healthy and proving he belongs in the league.
At the start of his 2010-11 rookie season, Williams dislocated his right patella in an early November practice and surgery was performed nine days later. Six weeks later, Williams had a similar procedure done on his left knee, ending his rookie season without playing a single game.
The 6-5 athletic shooting guard came back the following season in excellent shape, eager to demonstrate that he was healthy and ready to compete for meaningful minutes.
He showed flashes of brilliance and steadiness. His athletic put-backs and breakaway dunks quickly made him one of the most exhilarating players to watch on the roster.
A 17-point performance off the bench on seven-of-10 shooting in a 137-97 win over the San Antonio Spurs on February, 21, 2012, was Williams' best professional outing. His confidence was at an all-time high.
However, two weeks later, Williams would dislocate his left shoulder after a practice session in Boston. Surgery was required and he was forced to miss the team's remaining 27 games.
The fight continued.
Williams tore his left Achilles on a fluke play during a voluntary offseason workout at the team's practice facility in early September right before the 2012-13 season kicked off, stripping him of a second full season in three years.
Without a significant body of work to go on, the Trail Blazers declined to pick up his fourth-year rookie option at the Oct. 31 deadline, making him an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.
Despite all those setback, Williams is not discouraged. He has been through worse, and this is something he will fight his way through.
“My mom was a fighter so I'm going to keep fighting,” Williams said. “I had similar instances where I've been hurt, but I'm going to keep fighting because I know that's what she wants me to do. That's what she did and I got that fight from my mom. I'm going to keep fighting. I'm going to push through.”
Williams' rehab is going great. His legs are getting stronger and his wind is almost where it needs to be to be considered in-shape. He says some days he feels 85-90 percent and other days he's at 70 percent.
“Mostly the way I feel right now just lets me know that I'm still injured,” he said. “I'll give myself another couple of weeks or maybe a month and I'll be pretty much healthy.”
He says he will play Summer League, but not sure for what team, and he hasn't been informed as of yet if the Trail Blazers want him on their Summer League roster.
Whichever team he plays for, he promises a team team is going to get a hungry, healthy, athletic player who is going to play with a huge chip on his shoulder.
“I'm going to use a lot of stuff for motivation and I know I'm going to be ready next year.,” Williams said. “I'm going to have a big year.”
Williams may be the baby of the family, but he has been forced to grow up so fast. Now he's the one trying to keep peace within the family and has taken more of a leadership role in doing so.
He has to, it's for his mom.
“I have to be there for my brothers, my dad, for moral support, just for support period because I know that's what my mom wants me to do. I've been through a lot already but I'm learning to appreciate everything more.
"Like my teammates. I appreciate them. Everyone of these players reached out to me. I thank them so much for that. The coaching staff, from the top of the office to the players, they reached out and it meant so much to me. This is an A-1 organization. I love this place.”