(CBS) — He’s an NBA legend who built the Bulls into a Chicago sports staple and won an NBA championship after leaving town, but now, Pat Williams is facing a tougher contest: beating a rare blood cancer.
CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley talked with Williams about his biggest challenge yet.
Pat Williams was once the NBA’s boy wonder as the Bulls general manager at age 29, when they struggled to draw fans.
“We worked awfully hard, promoting and doing whatever we could get people into that building,” said Williams.
Later, he won an NBA championship in Philly and drafted Shaquille O’Neal in Orlando.
Three years ago, at age 70, the heath nut who’d run 58 marathons was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
“Me, Mr. health, Mr. fitness, no cancer in my family. I was just overwhelmed,” said Williams.
Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer caused by overproduction of plasma cells.
If left untreated, it destroys the bones, but like thousands of others, Williams has benefited from a stream of new drugs to treat it.
15 years ago, Northwestern myeloma specialist Seema Singhal saw the breakthrough firsthand with a patient at an Arkansas hospital.
“One of my patients had received the drug. We really had no idea if it was would work,” said Dr. Singhal.
Instead, that patient lived almost three years, thanks to an earlier form of the drug now marketed as Revlemid. Since then, five more myeloma drugs have been developed, with still more in the pipeline.
“There is hope, even though the disease is not curable today. I think a cure is not too far away,” said Dr. Singhal.
The new drugs put Pat Williams’ myeloma into remission. That’s the theme of his new book and he’s eager to try the next wave.
“I’ve told the docs, I’ll be your number one guinea pig. Sock it to me, baby. Sock it to me,” said Williams.
Williams would like to build a research and treatment center for multiple myeloma in Orlando. Other prominent myeloma patients include NBC newsman Tom Brokaw and former Cubs manager Don Baylor.