Former Knicks and Nets guard Ray Williams, whose life was turned upside-down after his 10-year playing career by bankruptcy and homelessness, died Friday at 58.
Williams, a native of Mount Vernon, N.Y., had been battling colon cancer at Manhattan’s Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Drafted 10th overall out of Minnesota in 1977 by the New York Knicks, Williams played 10 seasons that included two stints with the Knicks. He signed with the Nets as a free agent in 1981 and then was traded to the Kansas City Kings. Williams, who played two seasons with current New York coach Mike Woodson, was traded back to the Knicks in 1983. He then bounced around the league to Boston, Atlanta and San Antonio before being traded to the Nets where he finished his career after the 1986-87 season.
“I was just with him last week at the cancer hospital,” Woodson told the New York Post earlier this month. “Awesome. Physical. Tough. Knew how to play.
“He was a prototype combo guard because he could play the one, could play two and could guard the three because he was so physical. To see him in the hospital like that, you don’t wish that on anyone.
“We talked about fond memories. We have a lot of fond memories. A year here. A few years in Kansas city. We laughed about a lot of things. It was kind of nice.”
The 6-foot-3 Williams had career averages of 15.5 points a game and 5.8 assists a game. From 1979-82, he produced three consecutive seasons — the first two with the Knicks and the Nets — of averaging at least 19.7 ppg and 5.5 assists. His best season was his third with the Knicks in 1979-80 when he averaged 20.9 ppg and 6.2 apg.
Williams’ life took a dramatic swing once he retired. Financial issues plunged him into bankruptcy and homelessness, ultimately leading to his wife and children leaving him. He reportedly bounced around odd jobs in Florida and was ultimately able to get back on his feet with the help of former Celtics teammates Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, who helped him financially, according to a January article written by Ben Hohler in The Boston Globe.
Doctors reportedly discovered the tumor in Williams’ colon after he was given a free colon-cancer screening offered through the NBA Retired Players Association. According to the Post, Knicks owner James Dolan reportedly paid for Williams to be flown from Florida to be treated at Sloan-Kettering.