3.25.2013

McHale's Former Gopher and Celtic Teammate Passes

 

Ray Williams could seemingly do it all on a basketball court. He had an outstanding shooting touch, he possessed superb body control, and he could make a timely pass. He teamed with Micheal Ray Richardson in the Knicks’ backcourt to dazzle the crowds at Madison Square Garden in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
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“He was a joy to play with,” said Len Elmore, a center-forward who was his teammate on the Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Elmore remembered Williams, a sturdy 6 feet 3 inches, as “a consummate scorer,” even if “at times he would take shots you wouldn’t necessarily agree with.”

But “if you were open, he would find you,” Elmore said from Philadelphia, where he was covering the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament for CBS.

By the time Williams closed out his National Basketball Association career after 10 well-traveled seasons, he had accumulated impressive statistics. But he had also garnered a reputation as a playground-style player prone to turnovers and ill-advised shots.

And then everything fell apart. Williams had earned more than $2 million in his N.B.A. career, but he was generous with family members and friends, and his money eventually ran out. He declared bankruptcy in the mid-1990s, his marriage broke up, and he moved to Florida in hopes of changing his luck. But by the summer of 2010, he was homeless, living in a rusted Buick in Pompano Beach.

A few months later, after his plight became publicly known, Williams returned to his native Mount Vernon, N.Y., in Westchester County, where he had been a high school basketball star, to take an offer from the mayor, Clinton I. Young Jr., to work with youngsters at a recreational center.

But with his life seemingly turned around from the depths he had reached, Williams learned he had colon cancer. He died on Friday at 58.

Jim Dutcher, who coached Williams at the University of Minnesota, told The St. Paul Pioneer Press that Williams died at a family member’s home in the New York area after being treated at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.

Thomas Ray Williams was born on Oct. 14, 1954, one of six children, and led Mount Vernon High School to two New York State basketball championships.

After a year at San Jacinto Junior College in Texas, he starred at Minnesota, where he played alongside the future Boston Celtics star Kevin McHale.

Williams was a first-round draft choice of the Knicks in 1977, and in his first four N.B.A. seasons helped them make the playoffs twice.

He joined the Nets before the 1981-82 season, scored 52 points in an April 1982 game against the Detroit Pistons and helped the Nets reach the playoffs. But he was traded to the Kansas City Kings at the season’s end.

Williams later remembered a conversation he had with his teammate Kenny Dennard when they were on the Kings’ bench during a game.

“Dennard asked me, ‘Ray, do you know why you are down here?’

‘“No,’ I said. ‘Why?’

“ ‘Kansas City is where they send all guys to repent for their sins.’ ”

Presumably convinced that Williams had repented for his sometimes undisciplined play, the Knicks got him back for the 1983-84 season. But his second stint at the Garden lasted only one season. He later played for the Celtics, the Atlanta Hawks, the San Antonio Spurs and, finally, the Nets once more.

He retired in 1987, having averaged 15.5 points and 5.8 assists a game. His older brother Gus was a two-time N.B.A. All-Star guard, but they were never teammates.

Ray Williams did not graduate from Minnesota, and he had few skills beyond basketball. He held a series of odd jobs after moving to Florida, but they did not last long. He declared bankruptcy for a second time and received a diagnosis of diabetes. He was destitute despite having received grants from N.B.A.-affiliated organizations and taking cash out of his pension plan.

After he talked about his problems in an interview with The Boston Globe in July 2010, he received the job in Mount Vernon.

He married his second wife, Linda, in 2011 and was back in touch with his two daughters from his first marriage. A full list of his survivors was not immediately available.

Elmore, his former teammate, noted Sunday that Williams “flourished on the court” but, like many athletes, “was not properly prepared for life after the game.”

But in a February 2011 interview with The Journal News of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties, Williams was brimming with optimism. He told of his hopes to obtain more financing for recreational facilities in Mount Vernon and of raising awareness about problems some retired athletes faced.

“These people are counting on me,” he said. “I’m on a mission now. I’m home.”

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