Ray Williams, who went from being a first-round NBA pick and team captain, to bankruptcy, homelessness, and eventually redemption, has passed away in a New York hospital, according to the Knicks.
After a 10-year career that spanned six teams, including two stints with the Knicks, the star point guard ran into trouble immediately upon retirement in 1987. It wasn't drugs, or drink, or any specific failing—just a series of blows that were too much for a man who didn't know how to do anything but play basketball.
A string of bad investments led him to file for bankruptcy, and Williams applied for and received his NBA pension at age 40. The grand total: $200,000, and he quickly lost it in a real estate scam. His wife and kids left him. He bounced around Florida, working alternately as a golf course groundskeeper, a maintenance man in an apartment complex, a mailman, a girls basketball coach, a bakery employee, a deliveryman, an auto shop worker.
When Bob Hohler caught up with him in 2010, he had become homeless, sleeping in shelters or on park benches or in abandoned cars. He fished every day, eating what he caught and selling the rest. He blamed the NBA for not doing enough for its retired players.
“I’m not motivated by anger or revenge,’’ Williams said. “I just believe there’s a better way. Why should guys who are hurting have to wait until they’re on their dying bed before they get the help they need?’’
Williams turned it around towards the end. Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, his teammates for one year in Boston, gave him enough money to get him back on his feet. The mayor of Mount Vernon, NY, where Williams was a high school legend, gave him a job with the city. He reconnected with Linda Crawford, a nurse he had known in his playing days. They married in 2011.
Williams did take advantage of one perk offered by the NBA Retired Players Association: a free colon cancer screening, which earlier this month turned up an advanced tumor. Knicks owner James Dolan paid for Williams to be treated at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he passed away today.