Robert A. “Bob” Williams was a giant of a man. Not in his stature, although he was an imposing 6-foot-4. Bob’s eminence is defined by the many lives he influenced, boys and girls, men and women —this writer among them—who have, in turn, paid it forward by positively influencing others.
Bob transitioned last Wednesday at the age of 77, after enduring a long illness that had him bedridden, as his close friend, New York City basketball legend Tom Konchalski, movingly expressed at Bob’s memorial service in the Bronx Tuesday evening, “for 31 very painful months.” He is survived by his wonderful wife Milda, a shining example of a spouse, and children Robert, Scherece and Tiffany.
“Bob was the truest representation of a friend,” expressed longtime New York basketball fixture Ernesto Morris, speaking at the service.
“He epitomized character… and giving to others,” said his childhood confidant Myles Dorch, one of the many basketball luminaries in attendance.
Although Bob was born and raised in the Bronx, graduating from Theodore Roosevelt High School, he was also a son of St. Croix, Virgin Islands, through his familial roots. Bob resided on the island in retirement before falling ill and returning to New York for medical care. He was a well-respected, even revered figure in the V.I., where he was active in politics and sports.
Yet Bob’s special DNA runs through the vast NYC basketball community. After helping lead New York University to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament in 1963, he went on to become one of the first Americans to play professionally in Europe. He further enhanced his bona fides playing and coaching in the renowned Rucker League before becoming the first African-American assistant basketball coach at NYU.
His athletic excellence notwithstanding, scholarship was a priority for Bob, and he earned a bachelor’s in education and master’s in public administration from NYU. Sports and education became two of the pillars of the Sports Foundation Inc., which he co-founded in 1969. Character and service were the others, and the virtues and ethos that Bob instilled in the organization’s numerous participants and staff reverberate around the world, as Sports Foundation alumni include doctors, lawyers, journalists, coaches, community activists, political figures, educators, civil servants and entrepreneurs.
The New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, of which Bob was the founding president, is also an inextricable part of his legacy that will endure for generations. Some of sports’ most noted icons have been enshrined—names such as Bob Cousy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Connie Hawkins, Nate Archibald and Jerry Reinsdorf. Bob was unable to attend his own induction into the Hall last September.
The great writer and poet Khalil Gibran wrote, “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.” Bon Williams never stopped serving, and joy, even in the face of pain, was his possession.