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Jay Williams says he attempted suicide after motorcycle crash that took his career

Feb 9, 2013, 9:41 PM EST

Jay Williams Getty Images

It was one of the NBA’s most discussed tragedies — No. 2 pick of the Chicago Bulls Jay Williams, a college legend and a guy who after one season looked like a rookie with potential at the point, crashed his motorcycle, destroyed his leg and never played again.

Nearly a decade removed from the accident, Williams reflected on it and his life afterward in a powerful piece of writing in the New York Times by Greg Bishop.

To go from national champion at Duke and future face of the Chicago Bulls to a guy who might never walk again, to a guy who had the game he was driven to play taken away from him — and with nobody to blame but himself — would be hard for anyone to live with. And Williams was honest about not wanting to live at some points.

At his lowest point, Williams did more than consider suicide. “I remember lying in my bed,” he said. “And I’m just tired of being here. I didn’t want to be here anymore. I was so afraid to face people. And I didn’t really know who I was. And I didn’t really want anybody to see me. And I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I didn’t want to talk about it.”

Williams glanced at his mother, Althea Williams, as he recounted the story. He continued: “I mean, to the point where I sat there, and I had this pair of scissors in my hand. I just kept going on my wrist. I wasn’t trying to go sideways. I was going vertical. I didn’t want to be here. At all.”

It was his mother that stopped him and it was her that made sure he didn’t go there again. She is still a crucial and close part of his life.

Go read the entire story, a few paragraphs can’t do it justice. As he says, he’s moved on and he doesn’t want pity. Williams got all the way back to the D-League but realized it was not going to go beyond that, his body wouldn’t let it. An adjustment from that would not be easy for anyone.

He works for ESPN as a college analyst and he lives a good life. One different than he imagined, but a good one. As a fan of the game it’s hard not to think about what might have been for him. But it’s hard not to be happy for him that he has found his peace with everything.

  1. Gordon - Feb 9, 2013 at 9:55 PM

    It sucks for him, especially since he had a promising career ahead of him. He owes the Bulls a lot for not simply canceling his contract, which they were entitled to do.

    Instead, they worked out a buyout. It was a class move by the Bulls. I wish him the best because he seems like a genuinely good guy.

  2. raidmagic - Feb 9, 2013 at 10:02 PM

    Amazing how one bad decision can change the course of your life

    • chicitybulls - Feb 9, 2013 at 11:25 PM

      I wouldn’t necessarily call it a bad decision. I’m a biker and have never been down. On the other hand my bro in law, buddy and teammate all have gone down. It’s just an accident. I wouldn’t call this a bad decision like deciding to drive after having a few too many.

    • witchrunner - Feb 10, 2013 at 11:03 AM

      I was thinking the same thing. But, then after reading the full article, I realized it wasn’t really “just one bad decision.” He was an adrenaline junky. He obviously liked to live life on the edge. It sounded like he had already succumbed to the pressures of professional sports and had begun to lose his way. After all, not everyone loves the thrill of riding a motorcycle in excess of 120 mph.

      I have a feeling though, that his story is not over yet. I realize that this was written as a sports human interest story, but I get the sense that he will be fighting depression the rest of his life. They make it sound like he was depressed for a long period of time. Depression saps the body and brain like nothing else. Generally, it will take drugs to get one stabilized. Although counseling helps one deal with the day to day aspects of life, it’s really not that hard to slip beyond that to the point that the chemical makeup in the body won’t recover without the meds. At least his Mother will be keeping an eye on him. Hope he stays on the sunny side of things, because, as he has found out, there really is more to life than b-ball.

  3. nawlinsmitty - Feb 9, 2013 at 10:07 PM

    aklolzer…just remember…karma can be hell.

  4. texasrug - Feb 9, 2013 at 10:25 PM

    Better put tougher restrictions on scissors

  5. fearthehoody - Feb 9, 2013 at 11:15 PM

    nawlinsmitty…..just remember….
    it was just a bad joke Jay Williams will never see. Relax

  6. andyhr17 - Feb 9, 2013 at 11:33 PM

    Wow, you’re a truly terrible person.

  7. saint1997 - Feb 10, 2013 at 12:07 AM

    I don’t like people that think they are funny but aren’t so just use cruelty as a pretence to get cheap laughs. That is what you are but what you have to realise is right now 73 people think you are an ignorant idiot and the 6 people (1 of whom is probably yourself) that liked it are idiots. You have no idea the insensitivity of that ‘joke’ and you and your family should be ashamed

  8. stairwayto7 - Feb 10, 2013 at 12:09 AM

    Somethign else he failed on..first riding a motorcycle then failed at suicide.

    • lmoneyfresh - Feb 10, 2013 at 3:04 AM

      Even as a failure he’s still living a life 10x what yours will ever amount too. Keep flexing those internet muscles though, we are all so impressed.

  9. moseskkim - Feb 10, 2013 at 12:25 AM

    U usually see a horrible cruel insensitive comment here and there but why so many on this article? Everyone makes mistakes and he lost everything. Feel free to comment but man have some decency. It’s a real sad story regardless of the mistake he caused himself. I wish him the best. Glad he’s still living out his bball dreams.

  10. losanginsight - Feb 10, 2013 at 12:35 AM

    Jay would have still been ballin’.

  11. stoutfiles - Feb 10, 2013 at 2:31 AM

    I don’t see how this is a sad story. He had an amazing college run, got to play in the NBA, and survived a motorcycle accident. The fact that he wanted to take his life because he wasn’t living the dream anymore isn’t sad, it’s stupid and selfish.

    • lmoneyfresh - Feb 10, 2013 at 3:01 AM

      Really? You think he was depressed because he wasn’t living the dream? It couldn’t possibly be that the one thing he had trained for half of his life was taken away by a bad decision by himself? There’s a reason why ex professional athletes struggle so much after their careers are over. To take away your own livelihood is huge. That had to bear down on him with an amount of pressure I’m sure you know nothing about.

      • jimbo75025 - Feb 10, 2013 at 4:06 AM

        The Williams story was tragic-much like the Bobby Hurley scenario. That being said, lets not list not being able to do the “one thing” you trained half your life to be as a valid reason for suicide. The job I do is certainly nothing to do with the area I went to school for quite a long time to study. Life and circumstances change for almost everyone as very few live a Polyanna exisence for their duration on earth. I dare to say that Willliams has never gone hungry and lives a life better than most here can imagine.

        Suicide is not acceptable for any reason-much less for a reason as minimal in the grand scheme of things as being able to play in the NBA.

      • eyeswideopen999 - Feb 10, 2013 at 12:09 PM

        Maybe instead of putting others in Jay’s shoes, which most would probably fill in a heartbeat, even after the accident, you should stick Jay in someone else’s shoes and he can see what it is really like to have it hard. With a Duke education and family I don’t believe for a second his “livelihood” was taken from him. This is a spoiled point of view.

    • purnellmeagrejr - Feb 10, 2013 at 7:56 AM

      Don’t know if you’ve noticed but life is tough on this planet for everyone. Just when you think you have things lined up there willl inevitably be a surprise.

  12. aaronmushrush - Feb 10, 2013 at 3:05 AM

    This hits on several personal levels for me. Wondered this about Jay but didn’t know it. Glad his mother is a good Christian woman and was as strong as she was. Jay you provided the world with the coolest comeback ever, you’re a top notch analyst, and as my autographed Phillips Crab House pilsner glass shows a very cool dude. Thanks for sticking around. Go Duke.

  13. teambringitstrong - Feb 10, 2013 at 3:27 AM

    SMH at some of you people. Cyber heroes.

  14. gmsingh - Feb 10, 2013 at 10:25 AM

    Is his story somehow more important because he had a big contract to play basketball?

    • frankiebooboo - Feb 10, 2013 at 11:24 AM

      No. I think its more important because famous people have it so much harder than the rest of us little people. That being said, I wish him the best.

    • slowclyde86 - Feb 10, 2013 at 11:28 AM

      Who said his story is “more important”? The story is here because he was a notable nba player who has had to deal with difficult circumstances. I am, quite frankly, stunned at the lack of empathy exhibited on this thread. Your general lack of compassion is disturbing. I am sad for you. Truly.

  15. sarasotan - Feb 10, 2013 at 10:42 AM

    aklolzer, I’m sure you think you’re hilarious. You’re not–you’re a disgrace, and your comment is reprehensible.

    • Kurt Helin - Feb 10, 2013 at 4:53 PM

      I removed aklolzer’s comment, it was tasteless and mean.

      • aklolzer - Feb 10, 2013 at 6:30 PM

        ah come on, it was a little funny.

  16. monkeyjuice313 - Feb 10, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    aklolzer and stairwayto7 first off I want to say I really feel bad for both you. To have the cowardice to hide behind a computer and say those things is despicable and must be miserable. Having the role as a troll is one thing, but to actually have those thoughts and writing them down is another. Especially knowing you would never say those things aloud or to someone’s face. I get you’re probably only 16 and learned how to log-in to a website and spout ugly remarks and find it funny…but that was an actual thought in your head! Then you took it further and thought it would be funny to post on a website. I really do feel bad for you, and appreciate you reminding me how valuable a heart and a empathy are.

    Keep doing your thing Williams! You made a positive out of a bad decision. You picked yourself up when life was at it’s darkest. It is inspiring. Keep living the good life.

    • lanpar - Feb 10, 2013 at 11:21 AM

      monkeyjuice313 – well-written

      the storm hits everyone , it has no mercy, comes without warning , its part of life.
      aklolzer will realize the full magnitude when it hits him/her

      • monkeyjuice313 - Feb 10, 2013 at 1:58 PM

        Thanks, lanpar! I just hope he learns empathy. JWill is someone’s son. Someone’s family member. Someone’s friend. If these trolls knew someone who has had similar struggles would they say that to them? No, they would either be supportive…or say a comment anonymously on the internet.

  17. hojo20 - Feb 10, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    J Williams might’ve been the first good Duke pro.

    • flymoe - Feb 10, 2013 at 12:25 PM

      Christian Latiner wasn’t that bad. And I think Grant Hill would have had an amazing career if he didn’t have all that trouble with his ankle. He definitely would have been the best Duke pro.

      • 1historian - May 1, 2013 at 2:48 PM

        Christian Lattiner – “I’m not a center. I just play one on TV.”

        On the other hand – that shot he made at the end of the Duke-Kentucky game (You all know the one I mean) was flat out awesome.

        He reached his peak in college, he was WAAAAAAY over his head in the pros, and he had to fall back on a degree from Duke.

        It’s a tough life.

  18. gratefulneal - Feb 10, 2013 at 12:08 PM

    why is this a headline story? is this guy looking for “redemption” by people feeling sorry for him? try being a war hero – losing body parts – doing something that is important (defending our country) not THAT is tragic…this guy is ONLY a basketball player by trade…he has made tons of money – I mean, seriously folks…sad – yes – but only sad for him…..

  19. latchbeam - Feb 10, 2013 at 8:39 PM

    Way to overcome, Jay!!

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