The streetball institution James “Stixx” Williams died doing what he loved.
The 34-year-old Brownsville native and former Grady basketball star collapsed suddenly heading back to the bench while playing at the Nike Pro City pro-am hoops tournament at Baruch College on July 24. He went into cardiac arrest and died on the way to the hospital.
Hundreds of fans, friends, family, and former teammates packed the gym at Baruch five days later to remember Williams as the tournament resumed play. His Queensbridge team took the court against Brooklyn’s X-Men with both teams fittingly in their usual black and white uniforms.
“I’m just looking down and I can just see him running up and down this court,” Williams’ great aunt Dolores Butler said. “You can feel his presence in here, honestly.”
Pro City tournament director Ray Diaz said he struggled with the idea of resuming play so soon. He wanted to be sensitive to what happened, but those around him said Williams would have wanted the games to go on. The evening was in many ways a memorial to Williams, who is survived by this wife and two young daughters, with many of the circuit’s players, coaches and organizers paying their respects to his extended family filling the middle section of the far bleachers.
The league honored him with a standing ovation before tip-off, a moving poem by female streetballer Milani Malik, and a moment of a prayer at halftime.
“Your purpose and destiny may have been short lived, but it was fulfilled making connections through this game and showing love to those who came in contact with you,” Malik wrote in her poem.
Organizers also took up a collection to help with funeral costs. Queensbridge players, who lost 124–104 on June 29, all wore black stripes on their shoulders.
“I think that is the sign of the type of person that Stixx was, the type of family he comes from, and how they all stick together and they are here en mass right now to support him,” Diaz said.
During Tuesday’s game, tournament announcer Brawley Chisholm talked to the crowd about Williams, mentioning how he helped Chisholm’s son get a gig with the Harlem Globetrotters.
The 6-foot-8 Williams was one of the circuit’s most consistent and well-liked players. He got his nickname from his slender build growing up and was considered one of streetball’s best big men. Williams enjoyed nothing more than being on the court. He tweeted, “Thank god for another day alive #blessed” the night before he died.
Williams played his college ball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, a Division I school, and played professionally overseas. He was still playing in five summer ball tournaments, according to his cousin Ernest Washington.
He was mentor to younger players and was described as a fun-loving and happy-go-lucky jokester. Diaz said Williams would never let him forget that he still owed him a pair of sneakers from a championship he won years ago.
William was shown plenty of respect on social media, including from NBA players Taj Gibson and Kemba Walker, and at the local tournaments. Hoops in the Sun in the Bronx had a moment of silence, and Gersh Park did the same while presenting the family with Williams’ all-star game jersey.
“I always knew he was a very popular guy, but just to see it now, after his death, it touched my heart and it comforts me a little to know that he is looking down, watching all this,” said his wife Ranate Williams.
She said it was hard to come back to Baruch, where she is currently taking classes. William’s father Richard said the family still feels a sense of shock.
“I don’t believe my son is gone,” Richard Williams said. “I don’t believe he is gone. He was a beautiful kid.”
Williams is the most recent streetball player to die at a young age. Legendary big man John “The Franchise” Stickland, Troy “Escalade” Jackson, and Tyrone “Alimoe” Evans have all passed away in the last four years. It has put things in a different view for the circuit’s players.
“Tomorrow is not promised,” former Long Island University star Mike Campbell said. “It’s evident. These guys are just dropping right before our eyes. It just put things in perspective to really take care of yourself.”
Williams’ early death has been hard on his family, and the streetball community’s outpouring of love and support for them has eased their pain a little bit. It reminds them of who he was and that the impact he made will not be forgotten.
“I want people to remember his smile and his personality,” Ranate Williams said. “He could ways make you smile.”