“I made a very poor business decision. I made a very poor life decision, but it’s also been the best thing to ever happen to me,” says Jay Williams who effectively lost his chance to live out his dream as a professional basketball player, and was fighting for his life after dislocating several ligaments in his knee, shattering his pelvis, and severing a main nerve in his leg. This is not how things were supposed to go for the former number two pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. However, for him, a dream deferred means new opportunities, and new dreams to be manifested.
With his basketball abilities as well as his intellect and high character, Williams was poised for NBA stardom: a McDonald’s All-American in high school, two-time college basketball Player of the Year, National Champion, and three-year graduate from Duke University - something Williams feels he owes to his parents and collegiate coach Mike Krzyzewski. “If I don’t have a guy like him (Krzyzewski) to serve as that extra sounding board to give me that advice that I learned throughout my collegiate years and have parents the way I did, there’s no way I’d bounce back from my accident or anything I’ve gone through in life,” he says.
The young man from Plainfield, New Jersey had the world in the palms of his hands – up until 2003’s fateful June night. He was in the midst of a rookie contract worth north of 8 million dollars when the world came crashing down on him the moment he drove into that utility pole at full speed. The aftermath resulted in more than fifteen surgeries, two failed suicide attempts, and addictions to oxycodone and OxyContin. The next three years were mired in failed comeback attempts and depression. “Three and a half to four years after my accident, I was trying to come back and play with the Austin Toros, and my head coach, a guy named Dennis Johnson, I found out that he passed away from a heart attack, and he was still very young in his early fifties, and from that moment on, I started to think,
‘Why am I chasing who Jay Williams was? Why don’t I spend more time focusing on who Jay Williams is? Maybe, who I am is without what I do,’”
he recalls as Williams now focuses on what he’s blessed with, including his daughter Amelia Brooklyn-Rose – who was born in October and is his “everything” as he describes while showing us a video of her on his phone – and wife Nikki Bonacorsi (they resides in Brooklyn).
Williams is currently a basketball host/analyst on ESPN covering NBA, college, and high school hoops. He also stars on a separate ESPN program The Boardroom with NBA player Kevin Durant and agent Rich Kleiman where they take fans behind the scenes and show them a side of the sports world that they are not otherwise privy to. Moreover, Williams is a managing partner at Leverage Agency, ensuring to enhance the agency’s sports and entertainment properties as well as to open up new strategic channels of business.
Additionally, and most importantly, Williams takes time out to mentor young men. He had a starring role on the web series Best Shot featuring the Newark Central High School basketball team. The series followed the lives of the players and the progression of the team, and the lessons Williams imparted upon them. “Basketball is just the sport that helps you, it’s the sport to get the attention of the kid, and then you can teach life lessons,” he affirms.
Writer: Alain Clerine
Photographer: Joshua Cutillo
Photographer Assistant: Gavin Spicer
Stylist: Raven Roberts
Men’s Grooming: Sang Le
Videographer: Ray Antonison
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to Comprehensive Hospitality Solutions