Ray Williams, the former 10th overall pick in the 1977 draft of the New York Knicks, passed away Friday at the age of 58 after battling colon cancer for more than a year, according to reports.
Williams was teammates with Mike Woodson on the Knicks at the beginning of his career, and teamed with Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale in a brief stint with the Boston Celtics. Friday night, before the Knicks defeated the Toronto Raptors 99-94, Woodson said of Williams' passing, "It's a major loss. I was very good friends with Ray."
According to several reports, Williams fought bankruptcy after making bad investments when his playing career was over and was homeless for a time. When he was stricken ill, his relationship with Woodson pushed Knicks owner and Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan to fly Williams from his Florida home to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he eventually died.
Woodson said, "He's part of our Knicks family," Woodson said Friday night. "Our organization has been fantastic through this. I tip my hat to the Knicks. They stood in Ray's corner. He'll be missed. There is no doubt about that."
McHale, who played with Williams both on the Celtics and at the University of Minnesota, called Williams his favorite college teammate. "I came in as a rookie and Ray took me under his wing. We played ball all the time. We were two guys that just loved to play," McHale is quoted as saying in the Denver Post.
McHale also shared a story about Williams defending him on the court against opponents' roughhouse tactics.
"A couple of times, we played and some guys tried roughing me up. I'll never forget, Ray went up and grabbed one of these guys. Back then, they had jewelry and he grabbed the guy by his neck. Ray said he twisted it really hard and said, 'Before you mess with him, you've got to mess with me. And here's Ray, 6-3, and I'm 6-10. I said, 'Thank you, Ray."
Williams wore four uniforms during his career-the Knicks, Kansas City Kings, Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs and New Jersey Nets. He averaged 15.5 points, 5.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game, but his best years came while wearing a Knicks uniform from 1977-1981 when he was scoring almost 17 points a night.