Basketball helped him overcome a tough childhood, and gave him a path for life.
This January, UNC Basketball Head Coach Roy Williams was celebrating an impressive 800th career win at Carolina. The world-renowned and respected Williams took questions from the press, but then, in characteristically humble fashion, paused to point out the man standing at the back of the room, 76-year-old Buddy Baldwin.
“Buddy Baldwin was my coach, at T.C. Roberson High School. He was the first person in my life to give me confidence. He was the first person to make me feel like I could accomplish something.”
Roy was lucky to have someone like Baldwin to look up to at a young age.
Williams, who grew up in Asheville, has said he can still close his eyes and see his mother, her raven-black hair pulled back, standing over an ironing board at night with piles of other folks’ clothes at her feet after already putting in a full day at a factory job. He doesn’t remember her ever taking a vacation. As a mother of two — Roy and his older sister, Frances — and as the ex-wife of an alcoholic whose life had spun out of control, Lallage Williams had all she could do to provide for her family.
“For several years there, I really felt my mom had to battle every day to make things go, so that on Friday she could pay this bill and that and then have enough left for food,” Roy says.
“I found escape on the basketball court… I could forget everything else that was going on.”
When things were particularly tough between his Mom and Dad, she’d pick up and move her and the kids to a motel or a trailer in a motor court for safety. Predictability was definitely not there for young Roy. But he says, “I found escape, on the basketball court. I used to go at night, when the exit signs were at both ends of the court, and that was the only light because I didn’t want anybody to know I was in there. I could go in there by myself and I could forget everything else that was going on.”
“Coach Baldwin would be the first to say I was a serviceable player at best – but he saw other things in me. A drive to work hard, to give a task its all – and not give up. I think he knew that I could achieve, and he helped me to see it. I guess you could say he saw ‘fearless’ in me. Well I’m forever in his debt. It was the summer after my ninth-grade year I decided I wanted to become a basketball coach. His encouragement gave me the foundation I needed.”
Note: Biographical information and some quotations for this story were sourced from the following: BCBSNC Roy Williams Live Fearless video, 2015. “After 800th win, Roy Williams remembers his start, and Buddy Baldwin,” NewsObserver.com, 1/17/2017. “Home at last after a childhood in which warm family scenes were all too rare…” www.SI.com, 3/10/1997.