Former Knick Ray Williams Dies At 58

 

NBA.com staff

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.

Ray Williams (here in 1984) was the 10th pick in the 1977 NBA Draft. (by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)

Ray Williams (here in 1984) was the 10th pick in the 1977 NBA Draft. (by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)

30 Comments

  1. KENNETH TRIPLETT says:

    I grew up with ray in mount vernon and we had great times playing basketball at the playground and the boy’s club.Sometimes the great actor denzel washington played with us.Ray was a tremendous athlete but even a better friend who would do anything for you.May he rest in peace.

  2. michael garrett says:

    it breaks my heart to hear Ray had such problems late in life. I knew Ray as a kid we grew up in the same neiborhood. I remember going around the corner to hang with the williams brothers. Ray was blessed to have Bird and Mchale to help in his time of need. Ray and his family are in my prayers.

  3. Greg Bochow says:

    Rest in Peace, Ray Ray and God Bless You!! From my my family to yours, our sincere love and sympathy.

    p.s. If anyone here knows anything regarding services for Ray, please post them or direct me to where I might find out the time and place. Thank you.
    To Kathryn Williams: I was real close to Gus, Ray and Echo back in the day (Scap was a little too young for me to know that well. If you read this and do not mind, please let me know about Ray’s services so my brother and I can attend. Thank you.

    • Wake Tuesday March 26th 5 to 8pm Allen Memorial Church of God in Christ Memorial Life Center

      Funeral Wednesday March 27th 11 AM

      Allen Memorial Church of God in Christ Memorial Life Center
      132 Crary Avenue
      Mount Vernon, New York

  4. Man says:

    Aaron Ramsey…

  5. Hope his family is there for the funeral.

  6. Mee(a)t says:

    will be missed

  7. MJ says:

    I read as i sit back and remember watching Ray and how physically superior he was to most guards of that day, a backcourt of Ray & Sugar Ray (Richardson)…what potential…probably never reached what most thought they could but so much fun to watch, so much athleticism. I shed a tear and smile at once at least I was able to enjoy his play. It brings me back to the NBA of the 70’s the NBA of my childhood, watching games on Sunday , Knick games were available on an indy station and tape delays on Friday nights after the late news. I different NBA but talent rich as always a pleasure to watch. My favorite player for a few years back was Ray’s brother Gus…The Wizard as he was known , tremendous rookie with GSW playing along Barry and soon to become he backbone and leader of the Champion Sonics. My deepest condolences to the Williams’, THANK YOU for this nostalgic moment now and for all the moments you provided in my youth. Basketball was my haven and you were a large part of it. Rest in peace

  8. Joyce Carter says:

    R.I.P Mr Williams, you will never be forgotten. Larry Bird and Kevin McHale may God continue to bless you so that you may be a blessing for others in all walks of life. Thanks to you for all you do!!!!!!!!!

  9. Tyler says:

    Larry Bird and Kevin McHale are two legends who have been wonderful people when it comes to this sort of thing, they have not hesitated to financially help out more than a handful of down and out former teammates, and best of all, they have basically NEVER made any attention out of it or felt the need to pat themselves on the shoulder for it. Basically nobody would know they’ve even done that if writers hadn’t brought it up over the years. I found out about their good deeds years ago when reading the book “The Last Banner”. R.I.P Ray Williams

  10. Tony D says:

    “Ray’s Corner” is how he used to refer to the right side fence off the first tee at Van Cortlandt GC. That’s where most slicers would hit their balls and he would pick them up then proudly display them. I worked with Ray at the golf course and he was a really funny guy. He would always have your back and you could not ask for a better playing partner. We will miss seeing him at the course.

  11. IGGY says:

    Rest In Peace Mr. Ray Williams…I grew up in the Philippines watching you as a Knick on delayed broadcast TV. I never knew you or read any articles about you back then but reading the tributes now makes me realize that I was right about you back then. You seemed to be a nice guy to hang around with. I guess your face says it all. God bless your soul.

  12. SIMBA says:

    condolences to the whole Williams family and God Bless guys like Larry Bird and Kevin McHale….. Amazing you don’t hear about the GOOD things that come outta sports…… and no I am not a Celtic fan….. but those guys came up big….

  13. Phillip Daniel says:

    I remember playing with Ray at IS-8, he was a great person and great ball player. My prayers to his family. We all go through seasons in our lives that test our faith and strength. Thank God for Larry, Kevin and James for showing us all that we are our brother’s keeper. Rest now Ray, you’re in God’s hands….

  14. Jean Richardson says:

    Gus and Ray were superstars. FINE YOUNG MEN. Both were shining stars. WE in Mount Vernon New York were so very proud of Ray.
    Ray was a very kind person, never forgot his friends when he became a star.
    And its apparent many of the super stars didn’t forget him either.
    I hope Mount Vernon will be kind and remember him well.

  15. Zbd says:

    I watched him play basketball at Minnesota. What a powerful player who could do it all. Really muscle bound and was on a good team with Mychal Thompson, Kevin McHale, Osborne Lockhart and Phil “Flip” Saunders had a 24-3 record but could not go to the tournament because of sanctions by previous coach Bill Musselman and selling complimentary tickets.

  16. LALA says:

    and thank you Larry Bird and Kevin Mchale for helping the brother out while he was down and if others helped him out also,,, you reward is with your Lord

  17. LALA says:

    GOD bless Ray’s soul and thank you for the good years the good games the quality always cool and serious demeanor.

  18. Ray is my brother in Law. I am Mrs. David K Willams. I am maaried to his younGest brothEr, There was way more good regarding Ray than what was portrayed in articles of late. They claim he was homeless. RAY HAS FAMILY, he would have never been homeless. Yes he had finacial hardship. It didn’t make hima any less the GREAT PLAYER, SON, FATHER, BROTHER,BROTHER-IN-LAW, COUSINS OR FRIEND. LET’S ALLOW HIM THE DIGINITY IN DEATH THAT may or may not eluded him in life. RAY THOSE THAT MATTER KNOW BETTER. WE WILL FOREVER LOVE , REMEMBER AND RESPECT YOU and your LEGACY. We owe that to his ONLY daughter, Martha!

  19. D Renee says:

    Ray, you were such a good friend and my mom liked you (smile) . You will always have a place in my heart because you were that kind of person and friend. It hurt to see the article of you being homeless. God has you now!! You will be missed!! R.I.P.

  20. TrueCeltic says:

    condolance to the family so young :(

  21. Pastor Paul says:

    I wish that in his death that the media would stop continuing to lead with Ray’s tribulations and trials that we all as human beings have in this life. This man was the 10th overall pick in the NBA draft in 1977 and he deserves a better write up than what the press is giving him.

    My tribute to my childhood friend who I had the privilege of knowing all the days of my life: Ray I thank you for all the fun we had growing up in Mt. Vernon, New York. Those playground day’s between 5th and 6th avenue where we would battle on the basketball court, trench ball at Nathan Hale rec league, basketball at the boy’s club and baseball at Brush Park where you robbed me of a home run and then hit the game winning home run off me. We stayed friends all the way until your transition to your eternal resting place and I will always remember those times as we laughed and talked about the good-ole’ days in Myrtle Beach 1 1/2 years ago at Gus house. Those who never really knew you don’t know how wonderful of a person you were and always were. I’ll miss you my friend. RIP RAY!

    • joe palestini says:

      Pastor Paul, you must be really hurting. I only knew Ray for about 5 years and really liked him. (Please see my blog at 4:56) A terrific person, always laughing and what an athlete. He also was a great golfer which he loved so much. I know what a tough life Ray had since ballplaying. God works in strange ways and let’s hope that Ray is on the top of his list. We will always miss Ray. Joe

      • Gipp says:

        Well, Pastor Paul, when a guy spend 10 years in the NBA and has all that access to power and influence; it’s worth leading with the fact that he ended up homeless and sleeping in his car. Because it is a story too often repeated and should be a cautionary tale for all the young black athletes today who seem to think their money will NEVER run out. Oh Yes!! It will!!

  22. joe palestini says:

    I knew Ray personally. Played golf with him 3 or 4 times. Had him over my house in 1983 and played hoops in my yard with my son and his friends. The kids were in heaven. I have movies of that. Ray was respectful and had a great personality. I knew he was starting to financially fade when his Mercedes wouldn’t start in my driveway and he had to get under the car and hit the starter with a hammer while I turned the ignition. I was hoping that he would have prevailed in Mt. Vernon with his Recreation job. It really hurt to see pictures of Ray sleeping in a car in Florida. Now Ray you’re home with God. If God has a team there you will be a star. Joe Palestini

  23. Knicks fan since '75 says:

    ESPN has yet to report on the death of a former first round draft pick and 10 year NBA vet.
    They are a bunch of hacks and serve as the NFL co-network.

  24. newyorksteelo says:

    Ouch! Such a young age. Cancer now and days is everywhere. So sad. My condolences.