Jay Williams was set to be one of the biggest superstars in the NBA. All of his dreams were unfolding before his very own eyes but one move caused him to lose it all.
Students and staff of Reading High School (Reading, PA) filled up the auditorium to hear Jay Williams deliver an unscripted discussion about his life for an event hosted by Visions Federal Credit Union.
The Plainfield, NJ native who lived and attended school in an area full of drugs, violence and gangs admits that at one point he was a kid who didn’t focus in his classes…that was until Isaiah Thomas from the Detroit Pistons visited his school to speak on “The Business of Sports.”
Williams was a huge fan of the Detroit Pistons and listened intently to every word during this lecture. Thomas then asked students in the crowd to raise their hands if the first question applied to them: Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
Among other people, Williams raised his and was singled out to answer the next question: How Are You Preparing To Be A Millionaire? He did not immediately have an answer but this discussion motivated him to focus in school and work harder, especially in his math class. He realized that in order for him to be a millionaire, he needed to have the skills and knowledge to responsibly manage that success.
Williams went to the ABCD Basketball camp in Jersey and competed against top performers, showcasing his talents in front of coaches among the likes of Coach K at Duke University, Roy Williams (Kansas) and Tubby Smith (Kentucky). Eventually he received an invitation to play at Duke University. Going into his sophomore year, he overloaded on credits during the summer, exercised and made 500 shots a day.
He worked extremely hard to be recognized and respected as an athlete and student. He simply wanted to be the best. During his Sophomore year, his hard work during the summer paid off. He averaged 24 points, dropped 38 shots per game, competed against well known teams such as Kentucky, played on national TV and won National Player of The Year. After his team won the championship, there were talks on campus of Williams possibly being the first pick taken in the NBA draft.
He went through the pros and cons of leaving school to join the NBA. In a conversation with his coach, Coach K, he was put into the position of looking at himself as a brand and determining who was going to be in his network of mentors and contacts. They would be the people in his corner to assist him with the decision making process.
Coach K wanted Williams to focus on building a legacy and generational wealth, not instant riches. He then decided to stay in school and was the first player to graduate Duke in three years. He earned a Sociology Degree with a Certificate in Business and was the second person to be drafted.
His time in the NBA playing for the Chicago Bulls led him to hanging with the wrong people and making bad money decisions. Williams felt like he was on top of the world and craved more.
“I’m sitting here in this high rise building overlooking downtown Chicago and seeing a billboard of myself…while my dream is actually happening, i’m living it out, apparently [it] wasn’t enough…I think the path that I was going down was a reckless one…I was rebellious…
I wanted to prove to myself that I was actually going to live this lifestyle that I had been dreaming of living all my life…Those kind of arrogant thoughts and actions led me to hav[ing] a motorcycle.” (Jay Williams, ESPN Interview)
After his first year in the NBA, 21 year old Williams purchased a motorcycle and rode it with no license or safety gear. Having the motorcycle gave him a sense of control. While on the highway, he crossed paths with a truck so he sped up to get ahead. Riding 90 miles per hour, it barely missed the back tire of his wheel and in that moment, he started contemplating about his choices.
He hoped to make it out alive so that he could change his ways. Williams looked up and saw that he was headed for a utility pole. He failed to turn his bike to the right, smashed against it and hit the ground. The first thing that he started screaming out was “I threw it all away!” His life was moving fast and the one thing that he used to gain control eventually led him to quickly losing it.
He was met by his agent who was in a nearby area.. Shocked by what he saw, he dialed 911 and the ambulance arrived. Williams had metal rods inserted into his legs and pelvis, which smashed into over 10 different pieces.. “I went from seeing myself on a billboard to all of a sudden maybe never being able to walk again”, he told the students. After 10 surgeries, 2-4 months in the hospital and 3 years of recovery, he was able to go on the court but wasn’t able to play anymore.
Revisiting the conversation that he had with Isaiah Thomas at his high school years back (“how are you preparing to be a millionaire?”), he used the money that he earned to invest in his business ventures. Williams experienced years of depression but with the encouragement of his family he was able to rise and reinvent.
Williams’ experience is a true testimony of resilience and in his memoir “Life Is Not An Accident” he elaborates on the events. There’s an amazing cycle going on that involves successful people sharing advice to those who will eventually achieve their goals and do the same for others. Basketball player, Isaiah Thomas spoke to an auditorium of students and in that crowd was aspiring basketball player Jay Williams, who was moved by what he heard and applied that advice to his life. Jay Williams speaking in front of high school students proves that some things really do come full circle.
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