Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Where Are You, Bison Dele?

"Bison Dele was not tragic at all.
Dude lived (and died) on his terms.
One of my heroes for that reason."

BENNINGTON -- A good dude by the name of Dave Shelles tweeted that thought yesterday after I tweeted a short review of a song called "Frost" on Trey Anastasio's new album.

The opening verse:

It has been at least 3,749 days (10 years and 3 months) since Bison Dele -- who was born Brian Williams, the son of a member of The Platters -- sailed away and last communicated with anyone who can confirm his existence.

No one can confirm if Bison Dele is alive because he's probably dead.

He sailed away to the Great Beyond.


I was a high school sophomore in 1987, and my school, Millikan, was in its golden era of boys hoops. The 1987 team played its way into the CIF-SS Division I title game.

The Final Four was held at Cal State Fullerton.

In the first semi on the floor of the "Fullerton State" Titans, Mater Dei faced St. Monica, Brian Williams' team.

Williams was a star in the southland, one of the most celebrated players in America, scholarship to Maryland. Newspaper stories galore. If ever a team had the wherewithal to knock off Mater Dei, and few teams do, it would have been St. Monica in 1987.

The game was close, as expected. With half a second remaining Mater Dei led by 1. Williams was fouled and went to the line to give St. Monica the lead, or at least tie it.

By now the gym overflowed with fans from all four semifinal schools.

I stood in the sea of madness, drowning out the noise, watching Williams take deep breaths before he approached the stripe. He missed the first, and the gym got nuttier.

He missed the second, and the final horn blasted to end a scrum for the loose ball.

Brian Williams crumpled to the floor, sobbing.

He remained on the floor for several minutes, sobbing.


Fast forward 10 years.

Brian Williams is a veteran in the NBA, bouncing from team to team, trying to find the right fit for his game and his personality. There were no takers at the start of the '96-97 season.

Then he hit the jackpot during the final few weeks of the regular season when The Jordans signed him because they needed a banger, a bruiser, a rebounder, a fighter -- the big guy who did all the little things -- as they prepared to win the 5th of their 6 titles. The Jordans won the title -- did anyone really expect otherwise? -- and Brian Williams got his title.

I watched the Bulls present Williams with his ring the next season when he was a member of the Detroit Pistons. Not sure I've ever seen a bigger (happier) smile in my life. 

I watched that moment within moments in time and thought back to the night he crumpled to the floor, sobbing. The best and worst moments of his basketball life.


Brian Williams was a free spirit who, in 1998, honored his African and Native American ancestry by changing his name to Bison Dele.

Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated wrote a strong story (HERE) about the essence of Brian Williams slash Bison Dele in the aftermath of his mysterious disappearance at sea in the summer of 2002.

Here's a tidbit (click to enlarge):


It's been 3,749 days since we heard from Bison Dele.

Nobody knows what happened after he took Hakuna Matata out to sea with three travelers -- his girlfriend, his brother and his captain.

Only one traveler returned to shore: his brother.

He died months later and took the narrative of that July afternoon on the seas to his grave.

Did Kevin Williams (aka Miles Dabord) kill his brother, his brother's girlfriend and the captain then feed their bodies to the big fish in the deep blue waters of the South Pacific because he wanted to usurp Bison's identity and spend his millions?


Was the trip some kind of permanent Kerouac'ian journey Bison and Miles planned for years (with collateral damage) so Bison could disappear forever, to free himself from the chains of a society he never quite fit into?

You never know.

Did ...

... well, there are so many "Did?" scenarios and writing them all is an exercise in absurdity.

But it's been 10 years and 3 months since Bison went bye-bye. What happened?

You'd think a Hollywood writer or two would've taken a whack at the screenplay.

Tyler Perry plays Bison Dele in the movie. Someone's just gotta write it and include Brian's full 360.

The story is either heartbreaking because it happened and it robbed us of a colorful fella, or, its a tragic mystery -- even if Dave Shelles doesn't think Bison Dele's story is tragic.

All I know is that I hear Trey Anastasio sing " ... maybe he would sail away ... " and think that it's time to defrost Bison Dele's story once and for all.


A poet by the name of Richard Zowie paid homage to Bison Dele with THIS.