NBA Finals: Former Vol Grant Williams would make history if Celtics win

Despite producing legendary players like Bernard King in the pros, Tennessee basketball is lacking something significant at the next level. The Vols have never had one of their own win the NBA Finals while actually having a significant contribution to the team.

Grant Williams can finally change that. When the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors tip off Thursday for the seven-game series, it will mark only the fifth time in history a former Vol is on a roster competing for the championship.

Jordan McRae is the most recent Vol to play in the NBA Finals. He won it with the Cleveland Cavaliers as LeBron James’ teammate in 2016. However, he played just three minutes and scored four points, so that wasn’t a significant contribution by any stretch.

Before McRae, Allan Houston appeared in the 1999 finals with the New York Knicks and averaged 21.6 points a game. However, his team lost to the San Antonio Spurs in five games. He’s the only former Vol to contribute significantly in the event.

Reggie Johnson played just one minute in the 1983 NBA Finals for the Philadelphia 76ers as they beat the Los Angeles Lakers, and Paul Walther played just under six minutes a game for the Fort Wayne Pistons as they lost the 1955 finals to the Syracuse Nationals. That’s the entire list of former Vols in the finals.

It’s pretty clear that Williams will have the second largest role of all former Vols in the finals only to Houston. After all, McRae averaged just four points a game in 15 games with the Cavs during the regular season of 2016. Johnson averaged five and a half points a game in 29 games with Philly in 1983.

Walther averaged just under two and a half points and two and a half rebounds in 68 games during the 1954-1955 regular season game. Meanwhile, Williams averaged nearly eight points a game in 77 games during the regular season, starting 21 of them.

That production has gone up significantly in the playoffs. Williams averaging over 10 points and four rebounds while coming through in some huge moments, all off the bench. He did that while being matched up with Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first two rounds.

As a result, if Boston wins the NBA Finals, Williams would be the first real champion from Rocky Top in history. However, that’s just at the NBA level. There is some ABA history that favors the Vols a bit more, and Williams will have a hard time surpassing that production.

Red Robbins appeared in the 1968 and 1971 ABA Finals with the New Orleans Buccaneers and Utah Stars respectively. He lost the 1968 finals with New Orleans, but he averaged 21.6 points and 14.6 rebounds a game that year.

In 1971, he led the Stars to the title in seven games, averaging 11.4 points, over seven and a half rebounds and over two and a half assists. That’s not what he did in ’68, but it’s safe to call that significant production, especially since the 6’8 post player appeared in all seven games.

Ironically, former Vol Ron Widby was also a teammate of Robbins on that 1968 New Orleans team, but he appeared in just four games during that finals, averaging under three points and two rebounds. Widby is the more legendary Vol, but Robbins had the better pro career.

When looking at the combination of college and pro success, Williams is well on his way to becoming the most accomplished former Vol in school history. If he does have a role in Boston winning the NBA Finals, he will have accomplished something nobody else from Tennessee basketball did.