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Celtics’ Robert Williams deserves benefit of doubt — for now

Robert Williams’s meeting with Celtics coach Brad Stevens hopefully will serve as a wake-up call.PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF

He seems like a nice enough young man, Robert Williams, who has made two embarrassing mistakes in his two weeks with the Celtics. Mistakes 20-year-olds make.

He deserves the benefit of the doubt for now, missing his flight back to Boston on Sunday a case of maybe trying to do too much. After being in Boston on Friday afternoon, Williams returned to Houston Friday night, drove to Texas A&M in College Station to collect a few things to prepare for summer league, and, of course, celebrated his new status as an NBA player one last time with some college buddies.

It was an error in judgment, nothing heinous, but a point of concern for a rookie who is about to embark on a drastic life change and will be responsible for taking care of himself and resisting the temptations that being an instant millionaire will bring.


Again, Williams is 20. He is from Vivian, La., a town with the population of 3,671 in the northwest corner of the state on the Texas border. This life — and attention and pressure and responsibility — are new to him and he’ll need some time. That’s not an excuse, that’s just reality.

The reality is not every 20-year-old is ready for the NBA life, even though they think they are. The Celtics aren’t going to call Williams every morning so he can prepare for practice. The Celtics aren’t going to send Williams text reminders for his flights.

What Williams likely needs during his rookie season is a chaperone or relative or friend (not a homie) who can come to Boston and offer him guidance and structure. When Jayson Tatum signed with the Celtics last summer, his mother moved to Boston, and she lives two floors above him in the same complex.

Remember, these are gifted kids who are built like grown men, but that doesn’t mean they are prepared to make grown-man decisions. In many ways because of their talents they have been pampered throughout high school and college — with coaches, tutors, and sports information directors — until they get here.


The adjustment to NBA life is about far more than learning how to play in a new system, adjusting to a new city, and blending in with older teammates. It’s more about becoming personally responsible, learning how to handle money, learning how to enjoy life off the court without indulging in the temptations.

It’s unfair to call Williams irresponsible or flaky without giving him the benefit of the doubt. You would like to think his meeting with coach Brad Stevens — similar to being brought into the principal’s office — will serve as a wake-up call. Head coaches generally don’t get involved with summer league teams, save occasional instruction, so for Stevens to have a one-on-one with Williams after his second offense was significant.

“Just accountability, which is what they expressed to me a lot when I got here,” Williams said of his meeting with coaches. “Just stressing that this is a job, things are different in college. Just knowing what you have and the opportunities are limited.

“[Missing the flight] as obviously more of a self-upset because people obvious have a bad image [of me]. Missing my flight didn’t help. I talked to Coach Stevens when I got back and he obviously explained to me the opportunity. It’s not that many, so it’s definitely a wake-up call.”


Williams obviously was coached on what to say when he met with the media Tuesday morning. He wasn’t going to detail any specific discipline he received. He’s going to attempt to move forward, make some changes, and ensure this doesn’t happen again, or at least that’s what the organization hopes.

But Williams still deserves patience, at least for now. The team will make sure to provide him the structure he apparently needs, and he will have to also surround himself with people who have his best interest at heart, not theirs.

That’s the primary challenge of surviving in the NBA, ensuring that all you have to concern yourself with is basketball. When Celtics summer league coach Jay Larranaga saw Williams on the floor Tuesday, he gushed.

“He dunks with his elbows, which is really positive,” Larranaga said. “He’s been really, really good, really focused. He picked up the points of emphasis we had [Monday] in practice really well. He seems very coachable. This is the beginning of the process for him.”

The beginning of the process on the floor and off the floor. Williams was born in October, 1997, a few weeks after Notorious B.I.G., Puff Daddy, and Mase topped the charts with “Mo Money Mo Problems,” which is a pretty appropriate song for his situation.

There is more responsibility, problems, pressure, and expectations that come along with increased income, and Williams will have to learn that quickly. But to judge him so soon, call him reckless or unreliable already, isn’t fair. He’s not as mature as some other NBA rookies and perhaps that’s one of the reasons he dropped in the draft.

He is already on his second agent after the first suggested he skip the NBA Combine. But there is still plenty of time for Williams to right himself, acquire mentors who are invested in his success, and become more organized.


Like most 20-year-olds, the mental side has to catch up to the physical side. So we shouldn’t be surprised, but the hope for the Celtics is that Williams understands his weaknesses and works to improve them immediately.

If so, these two faux pas will turn into memories, nothing more.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.