Larry Bird always did have a knack for helping teammates. So why should we be surprised now, after he and Kevin McHale provided money to a homeless teammate and helped reboot Ray Williams’ life? (Boston Globe)
After months of sleeping in a broken-down 1992 Buick on a back road in Florida, former Celtics guard Ray Williams — once a marquee NBA player — has a roof over his head, a reason to get up in the morning, a chance to do for the needy what others did for him when he was down to his last dime.
Thanks in part to Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, his teammates with the ’85 Celtics, Williams is out of poverty — an existence all too common among former NBA players who outlived their basketball earnings.
For all basketball has given me — all the beautiful bounce passes, gorgeous jump shots and exhilarating dunks I’ve witnessed over the years — the bond between teammates is the most powerful thing I took away from the game. To this day, meeting up with old teammates is like meeting up with family. We don’t miss a beat. We reminisce, and we laugh, and we tease each other, and — if I close my eyes — we could still be teenagers shooting the shit in my team’s locker room.
We talk about the time our team was down one point with thirty seconds remaining in a state tournament game, and I missed two out of three free throws (we lost by two points). We talk about the time our coach told the bus driver to leave without my friend TJ, even though TJ had already pulled into the parking lot we were leaving from. We talk about the time my coach told me not to dribble, under any circumstances (true story; I had Kwame Brown’s handle and Eddie House’s body). We talk about the time we played Commerce, a team my high school hadn’t beaten in twenty years, and won by three points. And we talk about how my 300-pound friend could be seen in the background of the Commerce game tape, jumping as high as he possibly could. In other words, about two inches. But he was proud: “I actually got air!”
Everything we talk about, sad or otherwise, somehow leaves us laughing. I missed two free throws to lose a playoff game and end my career? For some reason, that’s funny. Our coach left TJ even though TJ was ten feet away from the bus? Our coach was a dickhead, but that’s hilarious too. Our coach told me not to dribble, under any circumstances? That still cracks everybody up, as do my non-existent ball handling skills. Our fat friend jumped in the air (for the first time ever) after a great win? Well, that actually wasn’t funny at all. When he landed, he almost broke the damn gym floor.
None of my former teammates — to my knowledge, at least — has ever offered money to save another former teammate from homelessness. But I can entirely relate to caring about former teammates. No matter how many years pass, no matter how long it goes between visits, I’ll always have my former teammates’ backs. I love those dudes.
That’s not to take anything away from what Bird and McHale did for Ray Williams. They’re still just as unselfish with teammates as they always were. I’d even consider this Bird’s greatest assist ever, though it certainly has plenty competition.