Famed streetball legend James “Fly” Williams was among 13 arrested as part of a drug trafficking bust in Brooklyn recently, the New York Daily News reported on Thursday. The 64-year old former ABA player was pegged by police as the leader of a group accused of peddling “2 million vials of heroin on the Brooklyn streets” where Williams, a Brownsville native, grew up.
Williams’ son and stepson were among those arrested. From the New York Daily News’ Molly Crane-Newman:
The 64-year-old Williams and his crew “had no consideration of the harm suffered by so many from the dangerous narcotics they allegedly peddled,” said Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
“They just cared about making money, exploiting addicts and the heroin epidemic that is spreading throughout our communities with devastating results.”
Prosecutors say the ring sold an estimated $12 million to $20 million of heroin on the street. Thirteen suspects were arrested in all.
Investigators also recovered more than $185,000 in cash and another two kilos of heroin to wrap up an investigation that started last September.
Various reports either have Fly self-naming himself after Curtis Mayfield’s 1974 hit “Superfly,” or taking on the moniker “because, when he rose from the blacktop in Brooklyn, he would make fraud of Isaac Newton, spinning 360 degrees in midair before laying the ball into a netless hoop.”
Whatever its inspiration, the man behind the nickname is best known as one of the subjects of Rick Telander’s famed 1976 book “Heaven is a Playground,” appreciated as much for his childish quirks and irascible (bordering on offensive) charm as for the way he effortlessly scored baskets by the bunches. For two seasons at Austin Peay (State University), Williams similarly swayed the college scene with his high-scoring exploits, and his number was retired by the school in 2009:
Williams averaged 29.5 points per game as a freshman, twice scoring a school-record 51 points along the way. His 29.5 average stood as the NCAA freshmen mark until Louisiana State’s Chris Jackson broke the record in 1988-89 with a 30.2 ppg average—Williams mark still ranks No. 1 for players without benefit of the three-point arc. Williams’ single-season 854 points are the most in APSU history and second most in [Ohio Valley Conference] annals.
Fly left Austin Peay after two years, declaring hardship in the face of incoming NCAA rules violations surrounding a wrongly administered standardized test. A contract with the ABA, featuring little in the way of upfront money, awaited.
As a one-year ABA guard with the infamous St. Louis Spirits in 1974-75, Williams averaged 9.4 points in 19 minutes off the bench. Williams never found a role in the NBA, despite some tryouts, and his minor league (the defunct CBA, and the Eastern League) career faded after he was hit with a shotgun blast in 1987, in what has alternately been called a robbery attempt, and a “misunderstanding.”
While Williams was noted in a 1998 SLAM Magazine article for his work with Brooklyn youth, the Daily News documented the NYPD’s characterization of Williams as the “Kingpin” of this particular ring.
Here’s a clip, from 2010’s World Basketball Festival, featuring Williams discussing his status as streetball royalty:
Despite his talent, size, and versatile scoring game, Williams couldn’t stick it at pro’s highest levels. A 1979 New York Times feature from Alexander Wolff documents Fly’s thinking during that struggle to break through, while he worked in the old Eastern League.
“Fly is Fly,” [Jersey Shore Bullets owner Greg] Kapalko says. “He clowns around a lot, but he’s playing good team ball and he’s really matured since last year. I feel he’s better than 90 percent of the guards in the N.B.A.”
Williams, of course, would like another shot at the N.B.A. Ask him what his scoring average is, and he only says, “They know I can score, but I want to better my team game.”
Many people agree with Kapalko that Williams, now 25, is talented enough to play in the N.B.A. But so long as he has his long‐range jumpshot and acrobatic moves, he’ll also have his reputation. It’s probably the one thing that is keeping him in the minor leagues.
“It’s gotta be the rep,” Williams says. “That’s all it can be to me. I can’t see anything else.”
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