Eric Williams playing the game

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

He arrived last season, bitter and angry.

This year, despite his own and the Raptors' travails, Eric Williams is, well, the anti-Eric Williams.

No more angry looks towards the coaching staff. No more snarling at approaching journalists.

Last week, after chatting with a group of Toronto writers, Williams climbed out of his chair and said: "Thanks, homies."

Talk about making middle-aged white guys feel hip.

Williams would definitely have a spring in his step if not for a sore right knee which has plagued him since the summer. But as the knee improves, and his playing time increases, Williams sees better days ahead, for himself and the team.

"The coaches know what they're doing," he said, after practice yesterday. "Our veteran guys bring it everyday, but the rookies have to learn how to step their game up and understand that you have to maintain it for 48 minutes a game."

He is a hard guy to figure out. Before being dealt to Toronto in the Vince Carter trade last December, the Newark, N.J., native was known around the league as one of the game's good guys.

In Toronto, he was known as a sour dude who couldn't shoot. Now, he's one of the few smiling faces down at the Air Canada Centre, although it should be noted that head coach Sam Mitchell often sports one of those Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest smiles.

Williams' smiles are genuine, and he welcomes the opportunity to talk. And man, does this guy have a lot going on.

As his playing career winds down, Williams has become more and more involved in off-court activities, such as his charitable foundation (Believe In Me), his various businesses endeavours which include real estate holdings, an apparel company and a on-line software firm, and his goal to become more involved in the political process.

Williams is a rare bird, politically speaking. He's an African-American Republican (which is sure not to sit well with coach Mitchell, who is not a big fan of the Republican party nor the Bush administration).

But Williams has a unique perspective on being a Republican. It's called winning by playing the game.

"(African-Americans) have been Democrats for a long time, and we ain't getting nowhere," he said. "Now a new trumpet's got to be sound. We have to start thinking new ways. We have to learn their (rich people's) tricks. Being a Republican doesn't necessarily mean giving the cold shoulder to the masses."

To that end, Williams set up his foundation, but he firmly believes in the Republican ideology that you can help more by making a success of yourself, by creating businesses which create jobs, etc.

If he tires of the business world, there's always politics. One of his good friends is Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who was the president of the Salt Lake City Olympic organizing committee. They've worked together at various charitable events and stay in close contact.

"I'd like to get into politics on a small scale, back in (Newark)," he said. "Try to be deputy mayor and then if I get the right support and the cause is right, who knows?"

When asked if he'd like to become the first African-American president, Williams smiled and suggested that Raptors teammate Matt Bonner would be a fine addition to his administration.

"Secretary of State," said Bonner, when told of Williams' political goals. "I'd take that."

"Fine," Williams answered. "And if anything goes wrong, I'm going to blame his ass."

That's playing the game.


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