Ray Williams, former Knicks star, valued his 'basketball family,' teammate recalls
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Albert King walked into his old teammate Ray Williams' New York City hospital room last week and heard a sound he didn't expect from a dying man's room.
"I walked into the room and it was Linda (Williams' wife) and Ray," King told the mourners who gathered at Williams' funeral service Wednesday at Mount Vernon's Allen Memorial Church. "They were happy. They were laughing."
Williams didn't bother to say hello to his teammate on the 1981-82 New Jersey Nets. "The first thing he said to me was 'Al, remember when I had 52?'," King said.
Former Knicks guard Ray Williams dies at 58
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"Ray had like 20 after the first quarter," King recalled for the assembled crowd of former NBA teammates and coaches, family and friends from Williams' Mount Vernon hometown. "The rest of the team looked at each other and we said, 'We're not getting the ball tonight.'"
King choked back tears, pausing to compose himself.
He told the mourners he finally figured out what Williams was saying to him at the hospital.
"It wasn't the 52 points. It was the family," King said. "It was the basketball family. It was the people that loved him. It was great to see that Ray felt that way about myself and everyone else.
"We're all going to be there one day and I just hope and I pray that there will be the same laughter and joy coming out of your room.
"Ray," King said, "rest in peace."
At the funeral, Williams' body lay in a wooden casket in front of an altar covered with flowers, beside an orange and blue arrangement that formed Williams' 13, the number he wore after he was drafted out of the University of Minnesota by the Knicks in the first round in 1977.
Williams' four brothers -- Sam, David, Charles and Gus -- sat in a row with their mother Rosanna, the matriarch of the Mount Vernon family. He is also survived by his wife Linda of New Port Richey, Fla. and a daughter, Martha Raychell Williams of Bloomfield, N.J.
Friends on Wednesday remembered Williams, who led Mount Vernon High School to two state basketball titles, as a natural athlete.
"Ray could have played football, he could have played basketball or he could have boxed," the Rev. Richard Garner, one of Williams' former Mount Vernon coaches, said during the eulogy.
The 6-foot-3 Williams ended up playing 10 seasons in the NBA. As a Knick, Williams took over point guard duties after the team traded Hall of Famer Walt "Clyde" Frazier to Cleveland.
Williams' career peaked in the 1979-80 season, when he put up All-Star numbers, averaging 20.9 points, five rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. He then went on to play for the Nets and the Celtics, among other teams.
When his NBA career ended in 1987, Williams lost heavily on bad financial investments and was caught up in a real estate scam that left him broke.
Williams worked as a groundskeeper, maintenance worker and deliveryman for years, then hit bottom in 2010, sleeping in old cars in Pompano Beach, Fla. After reading a Boston Globe newspaper story about Williams' plight, former Boston Celtics teammates helped get him back on his feet. Former Mount Vernon Mayor Clinton Young also hired Williams to work in the city's Recreation Department.
Ex-teammate Earl ("The Pearl") Monroe on Wednesday joked that Williams remained a close friend even though Williams had been drafted by the Knicks "to take my job."
"If you saw him today or if you saw him 10 years ago, we'd still come together and it would be like yesterday," Monroe said.
Also on hand at the funeral was current Knicks coach Mike Woodson as well as a number of retired Knicks, among them John Starks, Allan Houston, Darrell Walker and Rory Sparrow.
Westchester County Legislator Lyndon Williams said he has plans to urge the Mount Vernon City Council to rename after Williams the Fourth Street playground, a spot where many of the city's best battled on the basketball court.
The lawmaker said that, before his death, Williams had helped him push for funding to refurbish the playground.
Mount Vernon Mayor Ernie Davis told the crowd that Williams was an "uncomplicated" man who cherished friendship and loyalty above all else.
"There are some candles that are designed to burn a long time," Davis said. "And there are some candles that are designed to burn brightly for a short time."