Jay Williams, two-time Duke All-American and NBA lottery pick, is Saturday’s guest speaker at the Argus Leader Media/Sanford Pentagon First Five awards ceremony.
The former point guard won several national player of the year awards and helped the Blue Devils to the 2001 national championship. Williams was selected second in the 2002 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls and now works as a college basketball analyst for ESPN.
In his recently released book, “Life is Not an Accident: A Memoir of Reinvention,” Williams recounts the 2003 motorcycle accident that ended his playing career and led to years of depression.
Williams reached out to me on Friday for what I suspected would be a little conversation about hoops. Twenty-five minutes later and he asked that I bring my pot roast recipe to the First Five awards ceremony Saturday night.
I can explain: When Williams called, I was hip-deep in chuck roast and needed a moment to compose myself. At the end of the enlightening conversation, Williams politely asked that I bring him the recipe. It goes into his greater perspective on things: Everybody has something to offer.
Here’s some snippets from our conversation.
David Nicholson: What would your advice be to, especially the senior players, who are going to continue their playing careers in college?
Jay Williams: “I think back to what my father told me my freshman year in college … I’m at an alumni event and I’m hanging out in the corner with my teammates — joking around — and my father came up to me and slapped me across the head. I was like, ‘What was that for?’ And he said, ‘Son, what do you want to be one day?’ And so I told him, and honestly I’ve always had this dream and aspiration, I said, ‘Dad, I want to be a CEO.’
“Now a lot of times you say those things and don’t do your due diligence of exactly what goes into that and what the responsibilities are, but that’s what I told my dad. And he said, ‘All of these CEOs want you to be a basketball player at Duke, and you want to be a CEO. It’s your job to build that bridge. If these are the people you want to become, then you need to pick their brain and add them to your board.’
“One thing I did my freshman year was reach out to people who were Duke alumni, and I started to form my board — I started to pick their brains. I’d ask, ‘What can I do this summer? I’m going to be training, but maybe I can serve an internship for you. Maybe I could shadow you. Maybe you could be my mentor.’ People started to slowly invest in me, and I found myself at the end of my basketball career having all of these different relationships and directions I can go.”
Q: The experience in college and even in the working world is to “network,” but you seem to be talking about something that’s deeper than that — something based on building a real relationship and establishing trust?
“Networking feels so surface-level, right? When I go to events and I hear people say, ‘I’m out here to network,’ so they’re thinking about their next move. I automatically think, ‘You don’t want to know me. You just want to find the next leg up.’
“One of the best lines I’ve ever heard was from Maya Angelou: ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ … These days people can act in a way that’s very transactional as opposed to when you get someone to be invested in you, you’re automatically invested in them. Then there’s a bar set in the relationship — somebody is holding you to a higher standard than you hold yourself to.
“You start to form your board. I have people in my life to this day — seven, eight guys, who are extremely successful in their businesses, but they’re even more successful as men — who they are as fathers, as husbands, as role models to the towns that they’re in. Those are the people that I want to surround myself with.”
Q: Is there any real surprise that many of the top players, like in the case of the players being honored Saturday night at the First Five awards banquet, are also in leadership roles on their teams? How does your message relate to leadership?
A: “Well, it’s not just the good basketball players. [laughs] Just players in general. You don’t have to be a great basketball player to be a leader. Leadership is about a lot of things, not just being a starter. Now, that’s the way society maybe has it. Look at Michael Jordan. He was the best player, but there were times where Steve Kerr and B.J. Armstrong were the leaders on the team because they had to make tough decisions. They had to say no to Jordan sometimes.
“One of the main things I’m going to touch upon is this: It’s not a matter of ‘if’ you’re going to get hit with adversity, it’s a matter of ‘when.’ That’s also what sports are able to teach you. There are a lot of times where you get hurt, or maybe the coach gets up in your face and berates you or reprimands you, and you don’t think it’s fair, but how do you bounce back? How do you fall down and pick yourself up? That’s how your character will be determined.”
On overcoming motorcycle crash, substance abuse and depression: “In my life, I was able to use basketball and the life lessons I learned with ‘Coach K’ [Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski] to help me through one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had. Adversity for me might mean something different for someone else, but for me going through a horrific motorcycle accident, and the 13 surgeries I needed, and the years and years of depression and even attempted suicide. But adversity for someone might be tearing your ACL — it doesn’t mean that it can’t be equated to what I’ve gone through. It’s still a matter of, ‘How do you bounce back from that?’
“We live in the matrix. We live in a society that constantly wants you to make more, constantly makes you feel like the cup is half full. ‘I need to do more, I need to do better. I need this, I need that.’ Sometimes we need to stop ourselves. We’re constantly climbing this mountain. And it’s not until you stop and look back and are somewhat reflective and say, ‘Wow, I just climbed this far.’ Take a moment and have a level of gratitude and appreciate the climb.”
On the topic of pot roast: “The last thing I’ll say, and I hope this gets in there. It’s always funny to me when people come up and seek out advice. I always say, ‘Everybody is superior to someone else in a different way.’ You know? … So when I hear your story about the beef stew and wanting to show a little value at home, that’s something I pay attention to. There’s always something to learn from people, and there’s always a silver lining.”
IF YOU GO
What: Argus Leader/Sanford Pentagon First Five Basketball Banquet
When/Where: 7 p.m., Sanford Pentagon
Why: Honoring the best high school basketball players in the state, featuring guest speaker Jay Williams.