Nikola Vučević wore the No. 9 for each of his 591 appearances over eight-and-a-half seasons with the Orlando Magic. The digit came to mean a lot to him -- so much so that less than an hour after being traded to the Bulls, Vučević reached out to Steve Pankow, the team's assistant equipment manager, to see if it was possible to swap jersey numbers with Patrick Williams.
Williams, who donned No. 9 for the first 42 games of his NBA career, not only agreed to the switch, but said said it was a no-brainer -- even if there wasn't monetary incentive involved.
"Vooch told me that 9 was special to him and he had been wearing it awhile. My initial thoughts were he can have it, just give it to him," Williams said after Wednesday's shootaround.
But Vučević did end up compensating Williams after some prodding by Pankow and his teammates.
"Steve and the rest of the guys, some of my vets, talked through, like, ‘No, usually you get some money or something for it.’ At that point I was still like, ‘Man, you can just give it to him.' Say welcome to the Chicago Bulls or something like that," Williams said. "But Vooch my first time texting him I said, ‘Do you really want it?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ He just kind of gave me a price and that was pretty much it."
"Undisclosed," Williams said with a smirk. "But like I said, I was going to give it to him for free. That just shows the guy that he is that he even offered to give him something. Even when I told him I was going to give it to him for free, he was like, ‘Nah, I just want to make sure you’re taken care of.’ That’s just the type of guy he is and speaks to the character that he has."
Such a veteran answer speaks to Williams' maturity at age 19 as well. Williams has now played two games in threads bearing the No. 44, a nod to his high school and college number (4), but slightly adapted because the Bulls retired No. 4 in honor of Jerry Sloan.
In the second, especially, he and Vučević flashed nice on-court chemistry. Williams slashed his way to 14 points on 7-for-13 shooting in Monday's loss to the Warriors, with Vučević dishing two of his six assists to the rookie.
"He’s great at what he does. Step out and make 3s. Try to stretch the defense out. It just opens up driving lanes not only for me but for the rest of guys," Williams said of Vučević. "And then also whenever we just need a bucket or need someone to get to the free-throw line, we can throw it down to him in the paint and let him go to work and play off him. He’s definitely just a really good person to have on the team.
"And in the locker room, he’s a really good guy from what I know and what I can see now. He definitely fits our culture here... He just makes it easier for us."
Fitting, then, that Williams made Vučević's transition easier for him.