Former Knicks point guard and captain Ray Williams, who only two years ago turned his life around after experiencing bankruptcy and homelessness, died at age 58 Friday at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Williams had been suffering from colon cancer.
The 6-3 Williams grew up in Mount Vernon, about 20 miles north of Madison Square Garden, and saw his childhood dreams come true when the Knicks made him the No. 10 overall pick out of Minnesota in 1977. With the Knicks, he teamed with Micheal Ray Richardson to form one of the league's most flamboyant backcourts. Williams played a total of 10 seasons in the NBA with six different teams, including two tours of duty each with the Knicks and Nets.
Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan recently paid for a medical airplane to fly Williams from Florida to New York so he could be treated at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. Knicks coach Mike Woodson, Williams' teammate with the 1980-81 Knicks, 1981-82 Nets and 1982-83 Kings, recently visited him at the hospital.
"Major loss. I was very good friends with Ray. I send my condolences out to his family,'' he said before Friday night's game against the Raptors in Toronto. "Our organization has been fantastic through all of this, so I tip my hat to the Knicks, the fact that they stood in Ray's corner. He'll be missed. There's no doubt about that.''
Williams had career averages of 15.5 points and 5.8 assists a game. From 1979-82, he produced three consecutive seasons -- the first two with the Knicks, the third with the Nets -- with averages of at least 19.7 points and 5.5 assists. His best season was his third with the Knicks in 1979-80, when he averaged 20.9 points and 6.2 assists.
Williams, however, struggled after retirement. Having made about $2 million in the course of his career, he declared bankruptcy not long after retiring. He bottomed out a little less than three years ago, living in his car near a pier in Pompano Beach, Fla.
After former Celtics teammates Larry Bird and Kevin McHale read an article about Williams' plight in The Boston Globe, they offered him some financial assistance. Mount Vernon's mayor offered him a job in the town's recreation department, and he moved back to his hometown and got remarried.
In May 2011, doctors discovered a tumor in Williams' colon after he was given a free colon cancer screening offered through the NBA Retired Players Association.
With Al Iannazzone