Fly Williams

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Fly Williams
Personal information
Born (1953-02-18) February 18, 1953 (age 66)
Brooklyn, New York
Listed height6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)
Listed weight200 lb (91 kg)
Career information
High school
CollegeAustin Peay (1972–1974)
NBA draft1976 / Round: 9 / Pick: 152nd overall
Selected by the Philadelphia 76ers
PositionShooting guard
Career history
1974–1975Spirits of St. Louis
Career highlights and awards
Stats at

James "Fly" Williams (born February 18, 1953) is an American former professional basketball player, who played in the American Basketball Association (ABA) for the Spirits of St. Louis. A noted street basketball player from New York, he once scored 100 points in an IS8 League game in 1978.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born in Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York, Williams attended Madison High School, where he initially was interested in being a baseball pitcher, but was advised that he had become too tall to remain competitive in that sport.

Although Williams’ initial transition to basketball didn't go very well, he eventually made adjustments that allowed him to excel in his new game. Williams’ accelerated achievements were fueled by his frequent participation in street basketball games. He played with some of New York's finest street players, including World B. Free and Earl "the Goat" Manigault. When the games eventually ended, Williams would go out in search of more opportunities to play basketball.

Williams dominated Madison High hoops in the early 1970s. By his freshman year, he already stood 6 feet 5 inches (1.96 m) tall, with outstanding moves, a fantastic shot, a terrific knowledge of the back board action, and could play the crowds. However, due to his poor attendance at Madison, Williams completed high school at a prep school, Glen Springs Academy,[2] in Watkins Glen, New York. The book Heaven Is a Playground discusses, among other things, the education of Fly Williams.[3] According to "Loose Balls" author Terry Pluto, Williams took the nickname in homage to singer Curtis "Super Fly" Mayfield.[4] Williams was known for his play at Rucker Park and The Hole (Brownsville).[5]


After Williams completed high school, he was recruited by an assistant basketball coach, Leonard Hamilton, to attend Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Williams arrived on campus in 1972. He was greeted by a reception which included a sky-writing demonstration which spelled out his name. His freshman year, playing as a guard, his scoring record was especially noteworthy. Williams averaged 29.4 points per game in 1973, fifth best in the nation. The Austin Peay State University basketball team, the Governors, won a bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament. Williams was true to form; scoring 26 points in a first-round win over Jacksonville University. In the second round of the tournament, Williams managed another 26 points, but the Austin Peay Governors lost to the University of Kentucky, coached by Joe B. Hall, in overtime.

Williams scored 51 points twice in his freshman year. In his sophomore season, Williams averaged 27.5 points per game, earning a third-place scoring record in the NCAA. Once again the Governors basketball team won the bid for the NCAA tournament. Once again Williams scored 26 points, but Austin Peay was crushed by Notre Dame, 108–66, in the first round. The record established by Williams in his two years at Austin Peay, was impressive. Williams scored 1,541 points with a 28.5 point per game average; he left college due to hardship and pursued a professional career. Austin Peay responded to Williams' two year record, in 1975, by building the Dunn Center, a larger gymnasium, to accommodate the increase in attendance at basketball games.

Professional career[edit]

The Denver Nuggets drafted Williams in the first round (second overall) of the 1974 ABA Draft.[6] Following the draft, there were several offers to buy the player contract on Williams. Eventually, his contract was sold to the Spirits of St. Louis. (Bob Costas, then a young sports broadcaster, announced their games. Costas would later contribute to a book, "Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association," a sports book originally published in 1990, by Simon & Schuster, and written by sportswriter Terry Pluto.)

The 1974–75 basketball season was a disappointment to Williams and his team. He managed to score only 9.4 points per game for the Spirits.[7] Williams’ scoring was erratic and he was known for his showmanship rather than his scoring proficiency. He did not play during the following year (1975–76), after which the Spirits of St. Louis were one of two teams, along with the Kentucky Colonels, to fold as a result of the ABA-NBA merger, and Williams ended up without a team despite some interest in retaining him in the league. He was subsequently selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in the ninth round (152nd overall) of the 1976 NBA Draft but the team did not sign him.[7]

Williams then played in the Continental Basketball Association and the Eastern League, but he failed to receive any attractive offers from NBA teams. He later played for a team in Israel, but never did attract any serious attention of NBA scouts. Williams admits that his temperament was probably an underlying issue which predicated his lack of serious offers.


Williams's career was eventually ended due to a robbery attempt. A bullet wound left him with decreased lung capacity, and scar on his back. In retirement, Williams spent time working with disadvantaged youth and continued to play "streetball"; Williams is listed as the number three athlete on the "50 Greatest Streetballers of All Time" by the Street Basketball Association (SBA).

While playing at Austin Peay, Williams' nickname inspired a humorous fan chant: "The Fly is open, let's go Peay!" Fans still chant "Let's Go Peay" at all basketball games. Williams' number 35 jersey was retired by Austin Peay State University on February 5, 2009.[8]

A book on the life of Williams was written by Knoxville, Tennessee-based author Dave Link. Called The Fly 35 (citing his jersey number at Austin Peay), it was published to coincide with the jersey retirement ceremony.

At age 64 in May, 2017, Williams was arrested in Brooklyn, NY, and charged with being the alleged leader of a large heroin distribution ring.[9][10][11]

See also[edit]


  • "Fly on the Rebound: An update on a basketball legend". Austin Peay State University Alumni Magazine. Archived from the original on 2007-06-06. Retrieved 2007-06-07.
  • The New York Times article about Fly Williams' shooting incident
  • Pluto, Terry, Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association, Simon & Schuster, 1991, ISBN 978-0-671-74921-7


  1. ^ O’Neil, Dana (August 13, 2010). "The Legend of Corey Fisher confirmed". ESPN. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  2. ^ Eskenazi, Gerald (December 5, 1971). "Schoolboy Athletes With Poor Marks Get Prep Help for College". The New York Times. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  3. ^ Telander, Rick (September 3, 2013). Heaven is a Playground (4th ed.). Sports Publishing. p. 272. ISBN 1613213948.
  4. ^ Pluto, Terry (November 6, 2007). Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association (reprint ed.). Simon & Schuster. p. 360. ISBN 141654061X.
  5. ^ Flores, Ronnie (June 21, 2012). "Elite 24: Rucker Park Legends". ESPN. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  6. ^ "1974 ABA Draft on". Archived from the original on July 14, 2014. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Fly Williams Stats". Sports Reference LLC. 2019. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  8. ^ Telander, Rick (February 9, 2009). "The Fly Who Came in from the Cold | Vault". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  9. ^ NYC Street Hoops Star Cuffed in Brooklyn Heroin-ring Bust
  10. ^ Street-ball legend Fly Williams accused of running massive heroin-distribution ring in Brooklyn
  11. ^ Former NYC Hoops Star Arrested in Major Heroin Bust

External links[edit]