Pat Williams believed in Central Florida's potential when others didn't.
When many people thought Orlando was too small and too sleepy to support a major-league sports team, Williams saw possibilities. In 1986, he joined local businessman Jimmy Hewitt in an effort to bring an NBA expansion team to the city. A year later, league owners, sold by Williams' relentless optimism, awarded a franchise to the area.
"Well, look at us now," Williams said. "My goodness, we're a big-time city."
And look at Williams. He's big-time, too.
Thursday night, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will honor the Orlando Magic co-founder in Springfield, Mass. Williams will receive the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award — an award that previously went to such luminaries as former UCLA coach John Wooden, former Boston Celtics coach and executive Red Auerbach and former University of Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt.
Now 72 years old and with his blood disease multiple myeloma in remission, Williams is looking back on his accomplishments. His biggest: Bringing a team to Orlando.
"Pat was the driving force behind it," Magic CEO Alex Martins said.
"He was the individual that put tireless effort towards it, and clearly from an approval standpoint, from an expansion standpoint, he was the driving force. Jimmy Hewitt obviously had the original vision and the original thought . . . but Pat was the one who executed on that dream and made it a reality."
Hewitt said: "Pat is one of the finest. . . . I've been so blessed to have this relationship with Pat for the last 25 to 30 years, and I just can't express what it means for him to get this award, to have that kind of recognition."
Luring the NBA to Orlando isn't Williams' only success.
In 1968, Philadelphia 76ers coach and general manager Jack Ramsay hired Williams away from running the Spartanburg (S.C.) Phillies minor-league baseball team to become the Sixers' business manager.
In 1969, after three consecutive losing seasons, the Chicago Bulls hired him as their general manager. Soon, Williams helped breathe new life into the franchise.
In 1974, Williams rejoined the 76ers as their general manager and eventually acquired such stars as Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks and Moses Malone. The 1982-83 Sixers posted a 65-17 regular-season record and won all but one of their playoff games as they captured the NBA title.
"He's had success everywhere he's been," said Ramsay, a Hall of Fame coach who is now an analyst for ESPN.
"He's a very outgoing, personable guy. He's a tireless worker. He knows what needs to be done to make things work out successfully."
Off the court, Williams has made an impact, too.
In January 2011, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a treatable but incurable disease. He announced his diagnosis publicly, and that decision helped educate the public about the disease.
Williams underwent a stem-cell transplant and has completed his chemotherapy treatments, and recent tests have indicated that his illness is in remission.
"I feel good," he said. "The doctors are happy. The myeloma is in retreat. I'm still taking different forms of medication, but they don't affect me at all. I'm able to keep a full life. I'm working out every day, and I feel very good. I'm very thankful and grateful, so I'm plowing on full-speed."
In addition to writing books and giving motivational speeches, Williams remains a Magic senior vice president.
Pictures of family, baseball players and basketball teams hang on the walls of his office at RDV Sportsplex.
So does a framed orange T-shirt with the words "Orlando on the way to the NBA" emblazoned across its front.
It's a memento from his effort to bring an NBA team to Central Florida.
Now, 44 years after Ramsay brought him into the league, Williams sounds awestruck that he'll receive the same award as Wooden, Auerbach and Summitt.
He'll have about four minutes to give an acceptance speech.
"Here we are, four and a half decades later, and I've often been asked what my greatest moments in basketball are," he said.
"Well, that '83 championship team and that day in April of '87 when we were informed that we had a franchise. And now I add a third: standing in Springfield, Mass., the legendary home of basketball."
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog and follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.