The Bronx lost one of its best on Wednesday, July 18.
Robert A. Williams, whom spent his life as a professional basketball player and community activist passed at the age of 77.
Williams was the captain of the NYU men’s basketball team that battled the Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA tournament 1963, he then played professionally as one of the first African Americans in Spain for some years.
Later he would also become NYU’s first African American assistant basketball coach, going on to earn a Master’s degree in Public Administration and Policy.
Williams came home from Europe to continue playing basketball in the famed Rucker Park League of Harlem in the late 1960s, at that time he also began giving back to the Bronx and the rest of the city.
He started Sports Foundation, Inc., a youth program that focused towards education and substance abuse prevention.
Cedric McClester worked with Williams from the earliest days of SFI, although he had heard about the Bronx legend from the Rucker Park basketball league.
“Bob wanted to show social responsibility through teamwork. He thought sports and a teamwork mentality would show the youth how to choose the right path,” said McClester. “He had a love for young people,” McClester added.
Since those days of the 1970s, SFI grew exponentially and so did Williams’ legacy.
“It started with sports but overtime it grew much more to a childhood development program that had used sports as a catalyst, as SFI developed it became much more focused on after school and family programs, even though the name is Sports Foundation it really became the foundation of everything else,” McClester joked.
While the foundation may have not turned out to be all that sports oriented, Bob always remained locked in to athletics. During the 1990s he along with the late Howard Garfinkel, co-founded the NYC Basketball Hall of Fame which still exits to this day.
When the new Yankee Stadium was being built, Williams was appointed to the Yankee Council, which provided him the abiliity to steer Yankees community dollars to worthy organizations.
SFI is still heavily involved to this day.
One SFI assisted young man told both Robert and Cedric that because of the foundation he was able to attend Harvard, which he hadn’t thought would be possible in his wildest dreams.
Williams was also known for his sense of humor and approachability.
Also, while many at the time would use the term ‘dawg’ as one of endearment, Williams rathered the term ‘horse’.
“I don’t know really, that’s what he called people, I think he felt it was an upgrade from dog because you were as big and strong as a horse in his mind,” McClester said.
Williams’ son, Robert Reginald Jr. said that a truly proud moment was when he finally was able to beat his father in basketball, despite some shirt pulling and knockdowns.
The service for Williams featured many from the community that he had interacted and worked with throughout his many years.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and New York Knicks legend Earl Monroe both came out to pay their final respects to Williams.