Former NBA star Ray Williams made a name for himself as a point guard in the New York Knicks and other professional teams, but things turned dire when he ran out of money.
Some retired NBA players, like Shaquille O’Neal and Scottie Pippen, enjoy a lavish life after ending their professional careers. In Ray Williams’ case, he faced bankruptcy twice and had to fish off a pier in Florida to get by.
Young athletes can learn from Williams’ life that the hefty paychecks would stop coming after retiring unless they make smart financial choices.
Born in October 1954, Williams grew up with his five siblings in Mount Vernon, New York. It was evident that he would make it to the NBA from a young age as he led his high school team to two New York State championships.
He then studied at San Jacinto Junior College in Texas, but after only a year, he went to the University of Minnesota. He excelled in both teams, so the New York Knicks selected him in the first round of the 1977 draft.
Williams proved that the team was not wrong when they chose him by helping them get to the playoffs twice in his first four seasons playing at the NBA.
One of his most memorable performances came in the 1981-82 season when he played for the New Jersey Nets. In a game versus the Detroit Pistons, he scored 52 points.
Although Williams was a talented, consummate scorer, he had the reputation of sometimes taking questionable shots, not being disciplined enough on the court, and having too many turnovers.
After only one season with the Nets, he was traded to the Kansas City Kings, where players were sent to “repent for their sins,” according to former NBA player Kenny Dennard.
Williams returned for the Knicks before playing for the Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, and San Antonio Spurs. He retired in 1987 after playing with the Nets for the second time.
In 10 NBA seasons, Williams averaged 15.5 points and 5.8 assists per game. He earned the love and respect of his fans, as well as over $2 million. Unfortunately, the money ran out earlier than expected.
He was so desperate at one point that he even considered suicide.
Probably because of his successful NBA career, Williams spent some of his money helping family members and friends. After retiring, he made bad financial choices, put his money in bad investments, and listened to bad advice.
He didn’t have a plan, either, and unlike some NBA players who retired in recent years, he didn’t get a job analyzing games on TV networks or coaching college teams. Williams’ former teammate Mike Glenn once said:
“Ray is like many players who invested so much of their lives in basketball. When the dividends stopped coming, the problems started escalating. It’s a cold reality.”
Williams filed for bankruptcy in 1994, less than a decade after his retirement. The life of the man who once owned expensive cars and bought a house for his mom in Mount Vernon and another for his family in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, quickly went downhill.
His marriage fell apart, and he lost his home and children. He worked as a substitute teacher for a couple of years to make ends meet even though he didn’t have a college degree.
Williams also delivered mail and worked in a bar, but since he trained all his life to be a basketball player, he couldn’t really keep a job. He was so desperate at one point that he even considered suicide.
Eventually, he figured that moving to Florida to start over would improve his situation, but it didn’t. He lost the money he had received from the NBA Legends Foundation after the widow of a condominium owner who agreed to a lease-to-own contract changed her mind.
Williams didn’t have enough time to enjoy his life after getting out of homelessness.
If that wasn’t bad enough, his diabetes made him lose jobs as a handyman, cleaner, high school girls’ basketball coach, and golf course groundskeeper. As a result, Williams filed for bankruptcy for the second time in 2005.
By 2010, Williams had already run out of friends to stay with and was tired of living in shelters, so he was sleeping in a car. He sold pretty much everything he had to survive and would fish off a Florida pier to have something to eat, but he lived on just bread and water for weeks.
Although he had no criminal record, he admitted the “devil” wanted him to turn to crime or drugs to destroy his faith. However, he just wanted someone to help him.
Some people reached out to Williams shortly after his dire situation was reported by the media, including Boston Celtics stars Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, who helped him get out of his homelessness situation.
Apart from that, former Mount Vernon Mayor Clinton Young Jr. contacted him with a job offer: he wanted Williams to help improve Mount Vernon’s recreational activities and guide young athletes with his NBA experience.
In 2011, Williams was no longer worried about his next meal. Instead, he was thinking of setting a nonprofit foundation to help other people, especially retired professional athletes in need. He said:
“I just believe there’s a better way. Why should guys who are hurting have to wait until they’re on their dying bed before they get the help they need?”
Unfortunately, Williams didn’t have enough time to enjoy his life after getting out of homelessness as he was diagnosed with colon cancer and passed away on March 22, 2013. He was 58.
According to Williams’ coach at the University of Minnesota Jim Dutcher, he received treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and died at a family member’s home.
His wake and funeral were celebrated at Allen Memorial Church of God in Christ in Mount Vernon, his hometown. Shortly after Williams’ passing, his former teammate Len Elmore confessed he was a “joy” to play with. Rest in peace.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.