NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A promising basketball career ended with a motorcycle crash and a life nearly lost in the process, but the onetime New Jersey hoops star is pressing on.
As CBS2’s Otis Livingston reported, Jay Williams went into a downward spiral after the 2003 accident compromised his career. Williams, a native of Plainfield, New Jersey, had it all as a three-time All-American and National Champion basketball player at Duke University.
He was also the number two draft pick for the Bulls in 2002, and was destined to be the heir apparent to Michael Jordan in Chicago.
But a critical mistake, and a critical decision, changed the course of his life.
“I saw, you know, pictures of Jordan riding bikes; Kobe, Shaq riding bikes,” Williams said. “You kind of live recklessly where you think, ‘That can’t really happen to me.”
But on June 19, 2003, it did happen. As Derrick Blakley of WBBM-TV, CBS2 Chicago reported at the time, Williams crashed his Yamaha R6 into a pole in Chicago’s Roscoe Village neighborhood.
He was left with a severed main nerve in his leg, a fractured pelvis, and three dislocated ligaments.
Riding a motorcycle also violated Williams’ NBA contract. He had been warned, but was a bit of a rebel, so he had no one to blame but himself.
“I made one mistake that changed and altered my life – forever,” he said.
Williams wasn’t certain he’d be able to walk correctly again, let alone play basketball. As he revealed in his recently-released book, “Life Is Not an Accident,” it was going to be a long and painful rehabilitation process.
“I went through 13-plus surgeries, two and a half months in a hospital, you know, years of therapy, years of addiction issues,” he said.
To deal with the pain and life in general, Williams got hooked on Oxycontin and abused alcohol. His life was spiraling out of control, hitting rock bottom with his second suicide attempt.
“I took four more Oxycontin – that’s all I had left in my vial – and drank a half a bottle of Jack, and wished it was over,” he said. “And the next day, it was one of those things – to my surprise, I woke up.”
Williams had to make a decision – who did he have in his inner circle, and who was he without basketball. It wasn’t easy, but Williams came back to the game he loved as a college basketball analyst.
“When that light goes on, it’s like the ball is being tipped. And now instead of engaging in physical warfare, I engage in intellectual trench warfare,” he said.
Williams still has aches and pains, but as he told CBS2’s Livingston, it is a constant reminder of how lucky he is to have his leg.
“I can still run. I’ll still be able to show my son, when I have him one day, how to run first base. I’ll still be able to dance with my daughter when I get lucky enough to have that daughter,” he said. “It’s a matter of perspective. What prism are you looking at your life?”
Williams did try to play basketball again after the accident – with the Nets three years later in 2006 – but he got released a month later. He also tried out with the Miami Heat before the 2010-11 season, but he was not picked up after trying out.
His message is that you are not defined by how you fell, but how you get up.