Friday, Sept. 9, 2011
posted: 1:22 p.m.
By Taylor BellCSNChicago.com
Several of Mike Williams' old friends, teammates and admiring opponents staged a surprise birthday party for the former De La Salle basketball star on Aug. 14. It was a joyous occasion for the 48-year-old who hasn't had too many reasons to celebrate in recent years.
"It was a roll call of players. Levi Cobb, J.J. Anderson, Donald Reese, Carl Golston, Paul Beane, Greg Williams, Lamone Lampley, Pierre Cooper, Darryl Allen, Demetrius Brown," Williams said. "I'm doing good man, hanging in there. I'm lucky to be alive."
Williams' life story is worth noting. ESPN is planning a documentary in October and ESPN The Magazine is working on a story. A book is in the works and a Los Angeles production company is doing a motion picture. Chicago radio station WVON is doing a show and he had a four-minute segment on NBC's Today show.
It's all about a guy who played only 102 minutes in the NBA, was shot eight times and paralyzed from the waist down in a bar fight in Atlanta in 2009, is learning to walk again in a Chicago nursing and rehabilitation center and is speaking out to teenagers about curtailing violence with guns, an issue he is well qualified to preach about.
"It isn't a calling," he said. "People don't see what they do to other people. I've got a lot of damage to me. Financially, it destroyed me. I've gone through a lot of pain. I lost bladder and bowel control and I have only one kidney. I used to be 6-foot-9 and weighed 275 pounds. I'm gaining my weight back.
"There's a whole lot I want to say. There is no catch phrase. I want to hit home, save a life, don't take a life. Whatever you believe, you'll have to answer for what you do. I want to show kids what they are doing to people. I happened to live. But look what I have to go through on a daily basis."
Williams grew up in Roseland, across from Fenger High School. He attended St. Anselm's grade school, which also sent LaRue Martin to De La Salle. Williams was influenced by Andrew Summerlin, a CYO coach and an icon in the South Side neighborhood, who suggested that he should join coach Jerry Tokars' program at De La Salle.
"De La Salle had a great program in those days. I still think we should have won the state title in 1980," recalled Williams, who started on De La Salle's state quarterfinal teams in 1979 and 1980 and was an All-Stater as a senior in 1981.
He played on a Chicago all-star team with Walter Downing, Andre Goode, Paul Beane, Carl Golston, Dan Ivankovich, Kevin Upshaw and Greg Williams.
They played in the Boston Shootout and in New York against teams that featured Patrick Ewing, Pearl Washington and Adrian Branch.
"Those were the good old days," he said.
Williams starred on De La Salle teams that eliminated top-ranked St.
Joseph and Isiah Thomas from the state tournament in 1979 and beat Proviso East and Glenn "Doc" Rivers in 1980. Later, he played at Cincinnati, then left when coach Ed Badger became coach of the Chicago Bulls and transferred to Bradley to play for Dick Versace. He is a member of Bradley's 1980s Team of the Decade.
He was selected by the Golden State Warriors as the fourth pick in the third round of the 1986 NBA draft. He played for three years in Italy and ended his career with the Atlanta Hawks in 1989-90. He saw only 102 minutes of playing time in the NBA.
"It wasn't disappointing at all," he said. "I made it. I played in the NBA. How many kids can say that? I had suffered a lot of injuries that held me back. I had broken my wrist in Cincinnati. I was just thrilled to get some points and block some shots and dunk on some guys. I blocked Clyde Drexler's dunk and Robert Parish's shot. So many kids don't get that chance."
Then Williams' life took a tragic turn. Working as a security guard at a night club in Atlanta, he responded to a fight.
"The next thing I know I start to hear shots," he recalled. "I fell to the ground. I don't know if I was hit. I just remember the one that hit my back. It hurt. I felt my legs go numb. I stayed conscious until the paramedics got there.
"I'm thinking 'I'm not going to like this.' I started fighting to stay alive. They take me to the hospital, the doctor said the estimated time of arrival was 18 minutes. 'Hey, I don't have 18 minutes,' I said in the ambulance. They saved my life.
"When I got to the hospital, I said, 'Just give me something for the pain.' Then I woke up two months later. Nobody said anything about how serious it was. When I woke up, I realized I couldn't move my legs and I knew something was wrong. I'm determined to walk again."
Ironically, it is Ivankovich, now a Chicago orthopedic surgeon, who is overseeing his old teammate's rehabilitation and recovery. Williams saw a story on television about a youngster who had suffered a spinal chord injury in the Haitian earthquake who was brought to Chicago by Ivankovich for care.
Williams recognized Ivankovich. "That's Big Dan," he said, instantly recalling the seven-footer from Glenbrook South. "Maybe he can help me. That's how we got started."
He e-mailed Ivankovich, who called Williams. He spent five weeks at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and has been at GlenCrest Nursing and Rehabilitation Center at 2451 W. Touhy ever since.
"I can take a few steps with braces and a walker. I can stand but my ankles don't move. I have a lot of nerve damage," Williams said. "Dan is my guardian angel. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be where I am. I'm really lucky to be alive."