The story after the story

Portland state legend Freeman Williams has an interesting life story with a well-known fall from grace, but what is the one-time NBA star doing now?

Portland state legend Freeman Williams has an interesting life story with a well-known fall from grace, but what is the one-time NBA star doing now?

Williams has led a remarkable life that has, at different times, categorized him as a basketball legend, drug addict and mystery man.

He has such an interesting story that he returned to Portland State last week with a documentary film crew following him around as he walked down memory lane, reunited with old teammates, and played a couple of basketball games at the Stott Center, his old stomping ground.

An article written by John Canzano ran in The Oregonian in 2008. The award-winning column tried to seek out the “truth about Freeman Williams.”

The column explored how a player who once scored 81 points in one game for the Vikings, a player who is second all-time in NCAA career points, a player who spent roughly six seasons in the NBA, could end up years later addicted to cocaine and rumored to be living on the streets.

“The [article] made me feel bad, because it wasn’t the truth,” Williams said.

Williams admits that he never read the article, but says he found things out from what friends told him.

“People were calling me from Oregon asking me if I was alright, asking if I was living in an alley,” he said.

Williams will openly talk about the low periods in his life. After his professional career finished, he starting experimenting with drugs. In 2005, his younger brother was killed. In the span of about one year, he lost both parents after they had been married for over 50 years—a “real marriage,” as he calls it.

“We all go through tough times, but it was never like I was homeless, starving or wasn’t eating. It was never that bad,” he said.

“The other night [at the game], it felt good,” Williams said. “People weren’t talking about the interview; they were coming up to me and saying, ‘Man, it’s good to see you’re doing alright and looking good.’ And that made me feel good, you know. They cared about me.”

Although parts of the timeline are a bit hazy, Williams says he used drugs for period of five to six years from around 2000–06. He talked about the difficulty of changing one’s life and admits to trying rehab, but he often went back to drugs once the treatment stopped.

“I don’t think rehab stops people—it has to be that person,” he suggested. “You have to stay around positive people and always be doing something.”

Williams says he hasn’t used drugs in years, and as he built his life up again, he eventually reconnected with his former high school, Manual Arts in Los Angeles, and began getting involved with the youth in his old neighborhood. Last summer, Williams accepted an assistant coaching position for the boy’s basketball team and has been working with the team since the summer.

“I quit hanging around people that were [into bad things],” he said. “I started hanging around people that were into positive stuff. Idle time was one of my problems; that’s why coaching [helped], spending time around kids, and I just thank God that it helped me. Going to church helps, too.”

Today, Williams says he’s content with his life and that he sleeps good every day.

“I go to the gym, work out with the kids, meet with the coaches and then go home— that’s pretty much what I do every day,” he said.

After a colorful life full of ups and downs, Williams insists on keeping things simple and spending as much time as possible with his three daughters. He currently lives in Los Angeles, about 30 minutes away from two of his daughters, who are both attending college at UC Riverside. His other daughter is currently living in Sacramento.

“I want to live the rest of my life in peace, be happy and help my daughters have a good life,” he said with a big smile. “I love my daughters, man, don’t ever mess with my daughters.”

Williams is clearly grateful for another opportunity to do something meaningful with his life. He said all he wants is for people to remember him as a good person, and has emphasized many times how meaningful working with the youth has become in his daily routine.

As you might expect, a man who’s been through his experiences has a lot of advice to offer kids.

“[Coaching] is hard; it’s definitely not easy,” Williams stated. “Dealing with different personalities with different kids, [plus] we’re not winning now, but a coach has to be patient. Everything isn’t going to happen all at once, but you have to know things are going to get better.”

Back at Portland State, Williams had the chance to talk with the men’s basketball team before a recent home game at the Stott Center.

“You’ve got to [have] other avenues besides basketball,” Williams advised. “Whatever alternative you have, work hard at that too, because basketball isn’t always going to be there for you. But while you are out there, make sure you get something out of it—always work hard and practice hard.”

Although it had been decades since he’d been back to Portland, Williams said it felt just like yesterday as he returned to the gym where he became a First Team All-American in 1978.

“When I walked up to Peter Stott—man, it felt like I was back home,” Williams said.

“I was proud to [watch] the team play,” he added. “I’m a Portland State alumni, so I got a special place in my heart for them.”

Williams does not hold any resentment about things that have happened in the past, and says he can’t worry about what other people think. He’s older and wiser now, he contends.

“I’m just proud I have three beautiful daughters, who all have a good life of their own,” he said. “It wasn’t always this way, but I’m at a point in my life where I really care about my daughters, what they’re doing, and that they’re doing something positive. For however many years I live, I’m just going to be there for them.”

When asked what he thinks of being labeled as a mystery, Williams furrows his brow, shakes his head, and chuckles.

“I don’t feel like I’m a mystery,” he said. “Aren’t mystery people dead or something like that? I’m still living.” ?