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John "Hot Rod" Williams, who spent 13 years in the NBA and was a popular and tough defensive sixth man on Cleveland Cavaliers playoff teams, has died. He was 53.
He died Friday in a Baton Rouge hospital from complications related to prostate cancer, Williams' agent, Mark Bartelstein, said.
The Cavaliers called Williams "the humble embodiment and unsung hero of one of the most memorable and successful eras of Cavaliers basketball."
The 6-foot-11 Williams was a key player for the 1988-89 Cavs, who went 57-25 during the regular season, only to be eliminated by Michael Jordan's last-second jump shot in Game 5 of the first-round series.
Williams averaged 11 points and 6.8 rebounds for his career. During the 1989-90 season, he averaged 16.8 points and 8.1 rebounds. The Cavs made the playoffs in seven of Williams' seasons in Cleveland, advancing as far as the Eastern Conference finals in 1992, when his team again lost to the Jordan's Bulls.
"'Hot Rod' was the guy that willingly and pridefully drew the toughest defensive assignment," the Cavaliers said in a statement. "He was the kind of talented, unselfish and versatile player and person that earned the respect of everyone around him, including his teammates and opponents, and those who knew and worked with him off the court as well."
Williams was born in Louisiana and was given his nickname by his family for the engine-like sounds he made as he moved about as a baby. He played at Tulane, where he remains fourth in career scoring with 1,841 points and second in 20-point games with 36. Tulane had four winning seasons and two NIT appearances with Williams, who averaged 16 points and seven rebounds for the Green Wave.
Tulane's point-shaving scandal took place while Williams was there, and the program was disbanded by the university from 1985 to 1988. Williams was among three players initially arrested, but he was never convicted. Prosecutors said players accepted money from gamblers in exchange for keeping the Tulane's point total artificially low in certain games.
Bartelstein called Williams a man of "great character."
"For people that really understand the story of what happened at Tulane, he was taken advantage of by people who were far more sophisticated, but there was a reason he was proven innocent and it's because he was," Bartelstein said. "Nobody cared about winning more than 'Hot Rod' Williams. I represented him his whole career. His teammates know that. If you know the man, it's not even fathomable he'd be involved in things he was accused of. He was a very simple guy who loved the game."
Williams spent his first nine NBA seasons with Cleveland, then closed his career with stints in Phoenix and Dallas, last playing in 1999.
The Suns lauded Williams as the "consummate teammate and a player who took great pride in his game, especially in doing the little things to help the team win."
"Off the court," the Suns added in their statement, "he was a humble and gracious man, willing to share his time and fun-loving nature with anyone."