As a child, Howard Graves often returned home to find the
furniture knocked over and his father in a rage. Howard slept in
fear, not knowing when he might awaken to a flurry of fists.
Graves escaped this terror in 1975 when he left his hometown of
Plainfield, N.J., for college, but he kept his painful childhood
a secret. In the mid-'80s, he finally revealed his story to a
friend, former NBA All-Star Gus Williams. "I was shocked," says
Williams, who had met Graves in '78, when Graves's mother, Anita,
was Williams's business manager. "People keep abuse to themselves
and don't know where to seek help."
In 1997 Williams helped Graves start Champions for Families, a
Deltona, Fla.-based for-profit company that provides mentoring
and online resources for children and families victimized by
domestic or substance abuse. Says Williams, Champions's vice
president of public relations, "Abuse is still under the covers.
We want to bring it all the way out." The company, which relies
on corporate sponsors for most of its funding, is building a
network of athletes and counselors who offer their services
gratis to schools and communities. Among athletes, who speak at
youth clinics and parent resource centers for Champions,
Williams has already enlisted former opponents George Gervin and
A couple of decades ago, during his 11-year, four-team NBA
career, Williams, known as the Wizard, was driving by guys like
Gervin and Malone. Williams helped lead the Seattle SuperSonics
to consecutive NBA Finals, in 1978 and '79, and in the latter
year earned a championship ring. Overshadowed by teammates Dennis
Johnson and Jack Sikma, he was perhaps the league's most
underrated player, going to the All-Star Game only twice despite
scoring more than 18 points per game for seven straight seasons.
Many fans remember Williams more for his stubbornness than for
his play. He sat out the 1980-81 season in a dispute concerning
free agency compensation for the Sonics, claiming the quarrel
was about dignity, not money. "I have certain principles as a
man that weren't being met," he said when he finally signed.
Williams later cut the swooshes off his Nikes after his sneaker
contract expired. "It's a stale story," he says of his outspoken
past. "If I could change anything, it would be to win the title
the first time."
June 10, 2001
Williams, 47, a lifelong bachelor who still lives in his
hometown, Mount Vernon, N.Y., laces up his sneakers in a
40-and-over rec league once a week. ("I'm paying to play now,"
he says with a laugh.) Williams devotes the rest of his energy
to Champions. "We can have an impact," he says, "and try to put
a stop to this epidemic."
"People keep abuse to themselves, hide it," says the former NBA
All-Star, who works to help victimized children.