Illini Fans Really, Really Love Deron Williams

NBA players typically have strange relationships with their former college's fans. It's one of admiration and fandom, to be sure, but as most college basketball fans (I would guess) don't really have too much love for the NBA -- they don't know what they're missing -- they move on to the new blood, the new recruits flooding in, and bid adieu to the former stars that lent them some semblance of past success. It's a constant churn.

Most fans do that. Illini fans are not among them.

I have yet to meet an Illinois fan that isn't absolutely obsessed with the 2005 team that almost won them a National Title. This makes sense, I guess; that team won 31 games, was fun to watch, and gave Illini fans their closest shot at a title since the 1980's. It's only natural that the Illini would have a special place in their hearts for the former players of that team.

But the level to which they still love Deron Williams is mind-boggling. Every time the Jazz play the Bulls at the United Center, you can guarantee a huge ovation for Williams, as well as a sea of orange and blue shirts. At a Bulls game! Tonight, when the Jazz play the Bulls in an exhibition in Champaign-Urbana, I'd venture to guess there will be just as many people cheering for the Jazz -- or at the very least cheering for Williams -- as will be there to see the Bulls play.

I don't want to be a spoil sport, but again, this is baffling. That 2005 team was fun. They were enjoyable. But they didn't win anything. Their season ended as Final Four qualifiers, Big Ten champs, and ... that's pretty much it. A good season to be sure, but one that ultimately ended in exposure at disappointment at the hands of an even-more-talented North Carolina team. So why all the love? Usually the post-career obsessions are reserved for National Title winners and the coaches who recruited them. The Williams thing is something else. And I don't get it.

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