Friday, March 22, 2013

Ray Williams — NBA star who lost it all — dead at 58

Former NBA star Ray Williams passed away today at Manhattan's Sloan-Kettering Hospital after a long battle with colon cancer.  The former New York Knicks guard, who had fallen on unbelievably hard times, was 58 when he died, reports the New York Post.

Williams' harrowing rags-to-riches-to-rags story is a cautionary tale for all athletes or anyone who thinks they have got it all.  The Mount Vernon, N.Y. playground legend was a first-round NBA draft pick out of Minnesota in 1977 and played 10 seasons with six teams over his career and went to the NBA finals with the Larry Bird-led Celtics in 1985.

Doctors affiliated with a New Jersey medical group that offers health care to indigent athletes discovered a tumor in his colon during a routine colonoscopy.  At the time, Williams was homeless and living in a 1992 Buick.
The gritty guard — fondly known as "Sugar Ray" — retired in 1987 and blew the $2 million he had earned throughout his career but always insisted he never fell prey to drugs, alcohol or gambling. In 1994 he filed for bankruptcy and a $200,000 grant he received from the NBA Legends Foundation was lost in a real estate scam.

Knicks coach Mike Woodson — who played one season with Williams — recently visited his ailing friend.

“He was awesome,'' Woodson told The Post recently. "Physical. Tough. Knew how to play. He was a prototype combo guard because he can play 1, he could play 2 and could guard the 3 because he was so physical. To see him in the hospital like that you don’t wish that on anyone. That’s why we should be fortunate we can walk around and laugh.''

Williams, who played at Minnesota, averaged 16.4 points for the Knicks. He was a backcourt mate of Micheal Ray Richardson.

"We talked about fond memories,'' Woodson said. "We have a lot of fond memories. We laughed about a lot of things. It was kind of nice.''

In the late '70's and early '80's Williams did two stints with both the Knicks and the New Jersey Nets and was a shining star in the New York area.

It's sad to think about how hard and fast that star fell.

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