Living with Regret: Jay Williams was once suicidal after tragic accident ended playing career
Life is filled with choices. Most of them mundane, some monumental. No one makes the right decisions all of the time. Some are lucky to have made the wrong decisions at some point in their lives but miraculously emerge from a situation unscathed. Others make the wrong choice and it alters the course of their life forever.
If you’re seeking a cautionary tale, look no further than former NBA player Jay Williams.
Williams was selected with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2002 draft by the Chicago Bulls after a decorated collegiate career at Duke University, which included an NCAA title, a national college player of the year award and two consensus first team All-American selections.
After a decent rookie season, where he recorded a triple-double, Williams crashed his motorcycle into a streetlight a couple of miles away from his home in June 2003. Although Williams maintains he wasn’t being reckless on the motorcycle before his accident, he does admit the fast-paced pro lifestyle did get to his head once he entered the league.
“After my rookie season is where I [expletive] it all up,” Williams recently told the Brilliant Idiots’ podcast. “Don’t we all have [expletive] in contracts that we’re not supposed to do? Isn’t that life though? Here’s the thing. I never had money before. So all of a sudden someone gives me a lot of money and are like, ‘Hey, go fly with it.’ We didn’t have that type of money before.
“My family was mid-tier. So now you’re allowed to do whatever you want. You can fly on a private plane. You can get your mom a $10,000 fur coat. You can form a family business. It’s hard for that not to go to a 21-year-old’s head. Now, all of a sudden, I’m that dude. Now when I drive down I-90, I have billboard with my face on it. What the [expletive] is that? It’s not reality. It’s warped. Right? So for me, it was like when I saw other dudes doing things on planes, gambling money or doing whatever it might be, you start living that life. You say, ‘I can do that.’ Why wouldn’t I do that? It was just the lifestyle that came along with the property.”
The totality of the injuries suffered in the accident would ultimately force Williams out of the league and pushed the former star guard to the verge of suicide in the years to follow. Williams has a book set to be released in 2016 tentatively titled “Life is No Accident.” Although Williams missed out on plenty of future NBA earnings, he says he’s grateful to the Bulls for honoring a portion of his deal even after the tragic accident.
“I got lucky,” Williams said. “The Bulls blessed me with the second year of my deal, which they didn’t need to do. They were giving [the money] to me with the hopes I would be able to come back and play.
“I shattered my pelvis. I dislocated my knee, tore ligaments in my knee. But it’s not even the physical part that [expletive] me up. It’s the mental part. Living with it. That’s what my book is about. Living with all that [expletive] day-to-day. Knowing that you [expletive] up and you trying to let it go and other people keep reminding you that you [expletive] up. So you can’t let it go. It almost puts you into a mental misery of a jail cell.
“For a long time I wish I had just died. I felt it immediately. 100 percent. I didn’t know [my career] was over but I felt something different. It was different. My body was different. When I hit that pole, I knew something was wrong and I wasn’t going to be able to bounce right back.”
Williams was rare for a collegiate star athlete in that he stayed in school three years despite being a projected top five pick after his sophomore season. As a word of advice, Williams believes athletes in his same situation should make the leap to the NBA and maximize their potential earnings.
“I should have left (school) my sophomore year to be real with you,” Williams said. “It was the wrong move for me to stay. This is where my pops helps me out with certain things. Let’s look at the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Let’s break it down.
“So when the NBA implemented the weighted scale if you came out and you were the eighth pick in the draft that equates to a certain amount of money. There’s no huge discrepancy from the first pick or the eighth pick. I mean, there is … you might get $2 million compared to $4 million. But before they implemented that weighted scale, if you were a top five pick that’s when Glenn Robinson (No. 1 overall pick, 1994 draft) signed that [10-year, $68 million] deal.
“But if it’s a weighted scale, you might as well [leave school early]. Look I would be trying to get my second contract as quick as possible. I’m trying to get my big money as quick as possible because I’m trying to get as many contracts as I can. That’s why you see LeBron [James] always exercising his deals. [The system] isn’t built for the player to be successful, it’s built for the owners to be successful. So you have to gamble.”
Although Williams starred at Duke, he confesses his first choice was to play for the University of North Carolina but was turned down by then-coach Bill Guthridge.
“I spent more time at Chapel Hill than I did at Duke,” Williams said reflecting on his time on campus. “I’m a diehard Tar Heel fan. Diehard Tar Heel fan. I got turned down. We drove down there for an unofficial visit. Bill Guthridge had just been named the new head coach after Dean Smith retired and he pretty much said there wasn’t enough room on their roster for me. [UNC had] Ronald Curry at the time. He was a beast though.”
Williams averaged 9.5 points and 4.7 assists per game in 75 contests during his lone season in the league back in 2002-03. He has made several comeback attempts over the years, but his body hasn’t held up under the stress.
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