Jay Williams dropped by CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show on Thursday to discuss his new book, “Life Is Not an Accident: A Memoir of Reinvention.”
Williams, 34, was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. Less than one year later, he was in a motorcycle accident in Chicago. Williams was not wearing a helmet and suffered major injuries to his legs, pelvis and knee.
In an instant, his NBA career was over.
“Dying didn’t even come into my mind,” Williams said. “It was, I just threw away this one dream I’ve been busting my tail for for the past 21 years of my life. I threw it all away for an idiotic decision to prove to whoever that I was my own man. Worst moment of my life.”
Williams, who worked on the book for three-and-a-half years, said the writing process was “frustrating, arduous and cathartic” all at once.
“It forced me to remember a ton of details that, to be frank with you, I didn’t want to talk about,” he said. “I tried to hide. It was crazy to go back and relive exactly how that day happened. It was something that haunted me for a long time.”
Williams severed the peroneal nerve in his left, which sends messages from the brain to the foot. The nerve had to regenerate.
That hurts. A lot. In fact, it has been compared to childbirth. Williams said it was like “a dull knife stabbing you in the leg.” Sometimes it lasted five minutes, sometimes it lasted an hour. Sometimes it happened once a day, sometimes it happened all day. There’s no way to regulate it.
Williams turned to painkillers following his accident and became addicted to oxycontin.
“I was trying to find any way to escape the mental torment that I was putting myself through,” Williams said. “The pain medication started after I got out of the hospital and I was bed-ridden. My nerve never fully regenerated and I kept taking it because I was always having nerve pain, my pelvis was always in pain. I had severe nerve damage so I didn’t want to think about me not being able to get an erection for a year. I had to look at my leg that looked emaciated. It looked horrific compared to what my right leg was. And also, I had to sit there and watch basketball and hear stories about how I made a dumb decision and watch Kirk Hinrich go to work his rookie year, which sent me into a deeper darker spiral.”
Williams began drinking, eating and gaining weight. He got up to 220 pounds.
“I was fat,” he said. “I was a slob.”
Williams tried to commit suicide on two occasions. The second time, he downed three or four oxycontin, drank a half a bottle of Jack and “wished it was over.”
“To my surprise, I woke up the next day,” Williams said. “It was one those things where from that day on, for some reason, I tried to fight back. I realized that I didn’t want this to be the way people remembered Jason, Jay – whatever the heck you want to call me – Williams. I started to form a team of people around me that held me to higher standards than I held myself to, and I started the process.”
Eventually, Williams became a full-time college basketball analyst. He and Gottlieb actually used to work together. Gottlieb thought they got along great. As we find out in the book, though, that admiration, at least at that time, was a one-way street.
Williams sometimes wanted to punch Gottlieb.
Gottlieb asked how often.
“So many multiple times, Doug,” Williams said, almost laughing. “Well, here’s the thing. First off, let me preface my whole statement by saying this: You are honestly one of the most brilliant voices we have in sports. You really are. I respect the hell out of you. I think it took me a long time to get there. We both have something very similar. We both have edge, and we’re both extremely competitive individuals. When I came in to do TV, I had no clue what it was to do TV. You have to understand my background, too. I came from an argumentative family where I watched my dad hit my mom. I heard a lot of screaming in the household. So for me, I didn’t know how to deal with confrontation. So from your perspective, I see as you’re doing your job, you like to engage in debate. I still had a difficult time engaging in debate and not letting it become personal. So when there would be a stat wrong or there would be a name that I would get wrong, you’re just naturally locked in. Look, regardless of whether you saw it this way, we’re point guards. We’re both trying to figure this thing out. You wanted to be great at TV, I wanted to be great at TV. I would walk off the set sometimes fuming because I couldn’t separate the two, and you would go back to being cool, chill Doug. I couldn’t do that, man. It took me awhile to get to that point (to realize) this is just good, aggressive debating – and that’s okay to have. I couldn’t register that for my first couple years doing TV.”
Plus, when Williams got into TV, he was still battling some demons.
“I was still having my addiction issues,” he said. “I was still dealing with a ton of animosity I had toward myself. It was difficult for me to try to find myself when I had no idea what I even wanted to do in life. I was doing TV because it was something to bide the time. It was me trying to find out who the hell am I without playing this sport. I didn’t know everything about (all the major conferences). I couldn’t talk about the coaching changes that were going on or the fact that all these kids were transferring. I was just trying to focus on the ACC, and I was still learning how to do TV. It made me better. I am thankful that I had that experience, but I wouldn’t be honest with myself (if I didn’t admit it) left me angry (at the time). But anger for me just motivated me to be better.”