Our Pledge To You

Crime

State slam-dunk champ — once a star on MTV show — charged in Sound Bar murder

UIC forward Armond Williams gets the ball against the University of Wisconsin-Madison in a Horizon League tournament game in March 2004. | Tom Cruze/Sun-Times

UIC forward Armond Williams gets the ball against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in a Horizon League tournament game in March 2004. | Tom Cruze/Sun-Times

Armond Williams’ athletic prowess took him from West Side basketball courts to Public League glory and a key role in the golden age of UIC hoops.

He piqued the interest of NBA superstars while featured in a nationally broadcast MTV reality series hosted by LeBron James, and he went on to play for several professional teams scattered across Europe.

Williams now finds himself in a Cook County Jail cell, charged with first-degree murder in a shooting earlier this month that left a security guard dead outside a River North night club.

Cook County prosecutors say Williams fired four shots that killed 28-year-old Thurman Bailey on March 8 in front of Sound Bar at Ontario and Franklin streets, following an argument between a person in Williams’ group and club security.

Armond Williams | Cook County sheriff's office

Armond Williams | Cook County sheriff’s office

At his initial bond hearing, in which he was ordered held on no bail, defense attorney Lakeisha Murdaugh said Williams, a valid Firearm Owners Identification cardholder with a concealed carry license, fired in self-defense after Bailey was first to pull a gun in the confrontation.

At a hearing to review his bail Friday, Judge John F. Lyke Jr. called the case “utterly outrageous” and denied Williams’ request to be released from jail while the case continues.

“I’m still at a loss for words how something so simple [as getting into a club] can escalate to people dying,” Lyke said. “Are you kidding me?”

Following the hearing, Murdaugh said Williams remained in good spirits despite the dire nature of his situation.

“He’s doing well and he understands we’re still in the early stages,” Murdaugh said.

The 37-year-old Williams starred at Austin High School in the late 1990s, earning Chicago Sun-Times All-Public League Fourth Team honors as a senior in 2000, the same year he won the state slam dunk title.

The 6-foot-5 forward continued with a decorated collegiate career at UIC, scoring more than 1,000 points over four years. He was on the floor for the team’s NCAA Tournament appearances in 2002 and 2004 — two of UIC’s only three March Madness matchups in school history.

Armond Williams, right, grabs Kansas guard Keith Langford under the basket during the second half of an NCAA tournament first-round game in March 2004. | Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Armond Williams, right, grabs Kansas guard Keith Langford under the basket during the second half of an NCAA tournament first-round game in March 2004. | Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

After graduating, he appeared in MTV’s 2005 series “Nike Battlegrounds: King of the Court,” which was hosted by LeBron James. Producers sought the best unsigned players in Chicago and New York City, eventually pitting teams from the powerhouse basketball towns against each other on the court.

Williams was portrayed in the series as a gifted player prone to butting heads with coaches and whose commitment to his young son sometimes pulled him away from practice.

“Armond is a city boy,” three-time NBA champion Andre Iguodala said in the series, in which he served as the Chicago team’s head coach. “So his whole purpose of doing anything is to intimidate you.”

The sport then led Williams to live overseas until about 2011, with professional stints in Austria, Israel and Switzerland.

In a 2010 essay for the Sun-Times reflecting on his career, Williams described growing up on the West Side in a neighborhood where “there were a lot of gang shootouts. I had to learn how to use basketball as my outlet to stay focused and reach my goals.

“Austin shaped me in a lot of ways,” Williams wrote then. “It taught me to appreciate who I was and not to take anything for granted. I learned there’s always room for change.”

Prosecutors said Williams was sentenced to probation in 2015 for a misdemeanor count of driving under the influence, his only conviction.

Over the last few years, he had been working at a suburban psychiatric services facility, Murdaugh said.

At his court appearance Friday, about a dozen family members and friends of Williams packed into the courtroom’s gallery to watch the proceedings. Afterwards, his aunt, Renna Thomas, described Williams as a committed father.

“He’s not confrontational,” she said of her nephew. “He’s a peacemaker.”

Armond Williams was named MVP of the 2004 Horizon League tournament. | Tom Cruze/Sun-Times

Armond Williams was named MVP of the 2004 Horizon League tournament. | Tom Cruze/Sun-Times

Thomas said one of Williams’ sons had just moved to Chicago from South Carolina to play basketball at a city school and that Williams would regularly practice with his sons. The family takes sports seriously, seeing it as an avenue for getting his children into college and for potential greatness in the NBA.

In Chicago, they said, Williams is still revered in the community for his skills on the court and his jersey still hangs at his high school, which has offered to retire his number. A spokesman for Chicago Public Schools did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

His cousin, Devon McGee, said Williams was not planning to go inside the club the night of the shooting, though Williams and his friends were regulars at Sound Bar. Williams, according to McGee, was out with the group earlier in the evening and was saying goodbye to his friends and was planning to go home when the fight broke out.

“More will come out,” McGee said about the shooting. “They’re painting this picture of him as a criminal. He’s a family man. He’s a good person.”

As to why Williams brought a gun with him that night while going clubbing in the city, McGee shook his head dismissively.

“This is Chicago. Crazy things go on. You look out for your friends,” he said.

Contributing: Evan F. Moore

Armond Williams on the Nike Battlegrounds basketball competition

Armond Williams’ appeared on the Nike Battlegrounds basketball competition show that aired on MTV. | Vimeo screenshot

Williams appeared in the 2005 MTV series "Nike Battlegrounds: King of the Court." | Screenshot