Friends and family will say goodbye to former Knick Ray Williams on Thursday, when the Mount Vernon native will be laid to rest in his hometown.
Williams, 58, died Friday of colon cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. Funeral services are slated for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Allen Memorial Church in Mount Vernon, after a wake Tuesday night that saw actor Denzel Washington among the hundreds of mourners.
"Ray was a tremendous athlete, a tremendous person," said Lowes Moore, a former NBA player and current executive director of Mount Vernon's Boys and Girls Club. "Some people you call friends, some people you call family. Ray was family."
Although he died fairly young, Williams ended his life on the upswing, returning to Mount Vernon, securing a job with the city and remarrying after a period of personal setbacks that at one point left him destitute.
"Mount Vernon meant the world to him," said Jerald Hoover, a documentarian who was among the mourners at Tuesday night's wake.
The 6-foot-3 Williams was drafted by the Knicks in 1977, taking over point guard duties after the Knicks traded Hall of Famer Walt "Clyde" Frazier to Cleveland. His career reached its apex in the 1979-1980 season, when Williams put up All-Star numbers, averaging 20.9 points, five rebounds and 6.2 assists per game.
When a successful NBA career ended in 1987, Williams lost heavily on bad investments and was caught up in a real estate scam that left him broke.
Williams worked as a groundskeeper, maintenance man and deliveryman for years, then hit bottom in 2010, sleeping in old cars in Pompano Beach, Fla. After reading a Boston Globe 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.
Life went by too quickly for Williams, who wasn't prepared for what came after the NBA, said William Earl Tatum. Williams and Tatum grew up together in Mount Vernon, both of them achieving their goals of making it to the NBA.
"I don't think a lot of us knew where our dreams were heading," Tatum said.