By Jonah Sharf
Though he didn’t know it at the time, Jay Williams’ route to becoming a mentor and role model for young basketball players began just a few months after the conclusion of his rookie year as the number two pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. On June 19, 2003, he was in a motorcycle accident that nearly took his life.
“I was 21 when I almost passed away, [and] I spent a lot of my next couple years being angered by what I had lost,” Williams said. “I remember when I was 26 or 27 and I wasn’t able to come back, something changed in me where it went from ‘why me’ to ‘why not me.’ All of a sudden I didn’t look at it as a curse anymore, I looked at it as a gift…I started to believe in that purpose, and I think organically it has become who I am as a person.”
Now 15 years later, Jay is starring in Best Shot, a YouTube original docuseries that showcases his new appreciation for helping shape young athletes’ lives that is Executive Produced by Maverick Carter and LeBron James.
“Doing [Best Shot] was probably the best thing that I could have ever done in my entire life,” Williams said. “Sometimes it’s easy to forget the struggles of the everyday people while you’re lost in your own ambition to seek and conquer…to recognize that my parents were incredible, because other kids didn’t have parents to be there, it really humbled me.”
In the show Williams serves as both an assistant coach and mentor for high school basketball players in his home state of New Jersey, and he has thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to give back to his community.
Throughout the season, he makes a real connection with the athletes, and continues to give them advice and help them with anything they may need.
“This series is still going on,” Williams said. “It may not still be going on for the public to consume, but in these kids lives I’m still texting them, we’re still talking about different troubles they’re having. It doesn’t just stop because the show stops.”
Williams has become an example that many young players model themselves after—not just in regards to how he played the game, but also in the way he approaches life and his attitude towards adversity as well as success.
Williams is a strong proponent for giving back to communities and helping others who are in need, no matter who they are or what they have. To him, it is all about helping others in whatever way one can—that could be giving money to help build things, it could be serving as a mentor for children and young adults, or it could be just donating time at a local shelter or community center. However, Williams uses the term “mentor” loosely.
“I don’t want to be selfish anymore,” Williams said. “I don’t think it should be called a mentor anymore, I think everybody should find a way to pass it forward.”
He believes that the greatness of athletes should of course have to do with how good they were at their particular sports, but one of the most important markers in how he measures greatness is how much they help others in need. This attitude towards greatness is what leads to his belief that LeBron is actually the greatest basketball player of all time.
“I haven’t seen Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant give back to their communities the way LeBron has done for his, whether that’s creating content within Cleveland [or] showcasing different entrepreneurs within Cleveland,” Williams said. “He is the greatest of all time with him taking the ability of what he has on the court and leveraging the platform to help others.”
In addition to his unique attitude towards the history of the game, Williams’ accident and subsequent addiction to prescription painkillers helped give him a brand new attitude towards helping others not only to learn the game, but appreciate what it has does for them.
“Spending time to help somebody mold the way they think, it’s addicting,” Williams said. “Especially if you’re using it constructively in a positive light.”