James "Fly" Williams (born February 18, 1953) is a retired American professional basketball player. A noted street basketball player from New York, he once scored 100 points in an IS8 League game in 1978.
Born in Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York, he attended Madison High School, where he initially was interested in playing baseball. He was a pitcher, but was advised that he had become too tall to remain competitive in that sport. His initial introduction to basketball did not go well, but he eventually made the adjustment to the new game. His ability to play basketball came from his frequent participation in street basketball games. He played with some of New York's finest street players such as World B. Free and Earl "the Goat" Manigault. When the games eventually ended, he would go out in search of more opportunities to play basketball. Williams dominated the sport of basketball at Madison High School in the early 1970s. By his freshman year, he was 6 ft 5 in, 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 High, Williams completed high school at a prep school, Glen Springs Academy, in Lakemont, New York. The book Heaven Is a Playground discusses, among other things, the education of Fly Williams. According to "Loose Balls" author Terry Pluto, Williams took the nickname in homage to Curtis "Super Fly" Mayfield.
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.
The Denver Nuggets drafted Williams in the first round of the 1974 ABA Draft. 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. A young sports broadcaster named Bob Costas announced their games. He 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 and 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. His scoring was erratic and he was known for his showmanship rather than his scoring proficiency. Williams 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. Williams was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in the ninth round of the 1976 NBA Draft but the team did not sign him.
Williams then played in the Continental Basketball Association and the Eastern League, but he failed to receive any attractive offers from NBA teams. Williams later played for a basketball team in Israel, but he never attracted the serious attention of recruiters in the NBA. Williams admits that his temper 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.
Williams is now retired and works with disadvantaged youth.
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.
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.
- "Fly on the Rebound: An update on a basketball legend". Austin Peay State University Alumni Magazine.
- 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
- The Legend of Corey Fisher confirmed – College Basketball Nation Blog – ESPN
- Telander, Rick. Heaven is a Playground.
- Pluto, Terry (November 6, 2007). Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association (Reprint ed.). Simon & Schuster. p. 360. ISBN 141654061X.
- Fly Williams statistics page at BasketballReference.com