Dec 20, 2010

Ray Williams
 
MT. VERNON, N.Y -- When Ray Williams steps into the old gym at Mt. Vernon High School, or walks into the Dole Recreation Center a couple of blocks away, or opens the door down the street for lunch at King's Pizzeria, or even stops in front of the abandoned house in which he grew up, the reaction around him is pretty much the same.

Eyes light. Heads turn. Faces brighten. Chins nod.

People notice.

"It's good to see you, Ray,'' comes the warm and common refrain.

It makes this unlikely marriage -- a South Florida homeless man becomes the Mayor's assistant -- look like a natural fit.

Welcome home, Ray Williams. It's time to start over.

After 13 years of mostly bouncing anonymously through Florida from dead-end to dead-end -- the last 13 months sleeping in old faded vehicles in Pompano Beach -- Williams has returned to the town where he was born and raised and is still revered.

"We needed Ray back -- for a lot of reasons,'' said Mt. Vernon Mayor Clinton Young. "He's still respected and very much admired here. He can help us get things done. And he's a tremendous lesson on success, falling down -- then getting back up again. It was time for Ray to come home.''
Williams, 56, played 10 seasons in the NBA (1977-87). He was captain and point guard of the adored New York Knicks, the toast of nearby Madison Square Garden when he led them to their only 50-victory season in a 15-year span. Just a year later for the cross-river New Jersey Nets, he scored 52 points -- set a one-game franchise record that still stands -- against the Detroit Pistons.

Those memories never died, even if a part of him did.

When his playing career ended, he started a gradual, downward slide, spiraling through a series of bad choices, bad investments, bad advice. Life after basketball was like quicksand. He kept sinking.

He had no plan, no steady job, no real skills. He lost his home, his marriage, his health and his children, eventually leaving him broke, leaving him to fish off a Florida pier every morning just so he had something to eat every night.

That's where Mayor Young found him, after reading about his plight. Williams virtually had dropped out of sight, fighting through both physical and emotional issues. Convincing him to return wasn't easy.

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