Someone stole Alvin Williams' underwear.
It was about all the Raptors could take from him on a night the prodigal son of Toronto basketball returned.
He came back for however long he can, for as long as his ligaments co-operate, with a pair of Raptors shorts that were too big (he changed courtside during the game) and without a pair of underwear he somehow couldn't locate post-game. Because this is everything he believes in, everything he wants.
Which makes him the polar opposite of Lamond Murray, who was paid to leave town and has the audacity to complain about a situation he did nothing to make better.
All he ended up costing the Raptors was wasted millions and a first-round pick still to be collected upon. Typically, all he delivered was sour grapes. The story of his career: A waste of talent.
The story of Williams' career remains without an appropriate ending.
Alvin Williams had surgery on his right knee last May, and before that in February, and before that in November of 2004. He had his left ankle repaired the year previously, the right knee the year before that, the left ankle and left knee were repaired in 2002.
Williams leads the NBA in scars, second opinions and knee braces. Last night, with an Air Canada Centre crowd so meager it could barely muster enough energy up to boo Vince Carter, Williams was welcomed back with a brief but enthusiastic standing ovation. He played only four minutes forty-three seconds, scored no points, had an assist and an early steal.
And among the standing, smiling and applauding when he was announced was Carter from the Nets bench, who knows how diligently Williams worked to reach the point of playing in a pre-season game that was meaningless for everyone but him.
"It was wonderful," the 31-year-old Williams said of the standing ovation he didn't expect. "I wish my family was here to help me experience it.
"I've played with pain my whole career. A lot of players in the NBA play with pain."
In New Jersey, the Nets instead play with a pain. In Toronto, Murray took the money but never ran. He is a career malcontent who has made three stops in the league and has left each under less than adoring circumstances.
In each case, illness was a factor. The Clippers, Cavaliers and Raptors all happened to be sick of the guy.
Murray is 32 years old and the owner of a new contract on a team hoping to contend in the East. The Nets added him for the same reason the Cavaliers took him on and the Raptors parted with a first-round pick and Yogi Stewart's contract to bring Murray to Toronto.
They believe he will change. Everybody believes he can change. Soon, they will know better.
If Lamond Murray had half of Alvin Williams' heart, half of his passion, half of his integrity, he might have become something more than an NBA footnote. But he doesn't and never will.
So now, in this pre-season of little hope, we cheer for Alvin Williams to return because we need something to believe in, something to be excited about.
More than anyone who has played for this hopeless franchise, more than ever he wants to be here, wants to play here. Others might have collected on their contracts by now. Not Williams. He is a Raptor the way Tie Domi is a Leaf, only without the photo ops, without the quirkiness, and with more talent when healthy.
He isn't about to bad mouth anybody, complain about anything, even about a career that has been sabotaged by his own limbs.
"I wouldn't do anything different," said Williams, knowing that playing hurt has put his career in peril.
"This is what I've loved to do since I was five. This is what I do. I'm so excited (to be playing again) ... I talked to Grant Hill last year. I told him he (his comeback) was an inspiration to me.
"I was in Lamond Murray's shoes. I wasn't playing. I could have been the same (bitter) person. Everyone's different."