Though Stephon Marbury claimed to have Isiah Thomas’ permission to fly back to New York after an alleged incident on the Knicks’ flight to Phoenix Monday, the oft-ridiculed point guard was fined $190K for his absence and was served up on a platter to yack radio and blogs alike (present company included). A report in Thursday’s New York Times by Corey Kilgannon and Vincent M. Malozzi was the first I’ve seen that indicated Marbury’s departure — described as going “AWOL” by multiple media outlets — for a reason besides an ego-driven spat with Isiah Thomas.

For 36 years, Robert Williams, known on and around those courts as Mr. Lou, coached and mentored hundreds of talented young basketball players from Coney Island. Stephon Marbury of the New York Knicks, who had given him the Cadillac, was one of them. Sebastian Telfair of the Minnesota Timberwolves was another. Mr. Williams died of a heart attack on Tuesday afternoon in his apartment in the housing project. He was 64. Mr. Marbury, who left the Knicks without public explanation on Tuesday, spent at least several of his hours away from the team at the housing project, called Surfside Gardens.

œMy dad passed away at 3 o™clock, and Stephon was here by dinnertime, said Robert Williams Jr., 40, Mr. Williams™s son.

Dwayne Tiny Morton, the head basketball coach at Lincoln High School in Coney Island, where Mr. Marbury played ball, said, œI mean, there comes a time when you have to stop what you™re doing, even if it is playing professional basketball, and pay your respects.

Ray Brown said he grew up with Mr. Williams, whose nickname derived from a childhood sobriquet Lulu Boy, and who ran an annual tournament held in the memory of a local man shot years back by police officers.

œSome of us went to college, some went to jail and some wound up dead; Mr. Lou stayed here with the kids, said Ray Brown.

Some of them were allowed up to Mr. Williams apartment to view his lifeless body laid out on his bed. One of them was Mr. Marbury.

Earl Smith, one of Mr. Williams™s former players who is now a personal assistant to Spike Lee, said Mr. Marbury was in the Williams apartment œcrying like a baby.

Sports On My Mind’s dwil asks, “what happens when it becomes common knowledge – not to say that it should not be common knowledge already – that Marbury was grieving in his hometown and that was his reason for leaving the team? Will there be rounds of apologies from the press?”

Perhaps not. But this does raise the obvious question, why have neither the Knicks nor Marbury mentioned Williams’ death or Marbury’s whereabouts until now? Wouldn’t it be in the best interests of both parties to put a slightly more positive spin on Marbury’s recent behavior than to have the public believe he’s either threatened or punched his coach?

On an entirely different tip, Josh at Rebuilding Year attempts to determine who spilled the beans about the Stephon/Isiah airplane dustup.