Do You Remember? is a new series from PIPPEN AIN’T EASY that highlights former Chicago Bulls who didn’t ever make headlines or legendary stints with the Bulls, but nevertheless gave their sweat and blood to be a part of Bulls Nation.
The Almost Superstar: Jay Williams
It seems like not that long ago the Chicago Bulls were trying to rebuild and repeat the success of their massive 1990’s championship campaign. After the dissolvement of the Michael Jordan era in Chicago after 1997, the Bull went into rebuilding mode and actually came away with some gems in hindsight.
They never seemed able to hang onto their talents, whether it be because they never shined in Chicago, or because the Bulls just didn’t have the right state of mind to hang onto them, Chicago was never in a situation where they didn’t have a big name on the team in some way.
No matter how hard Chicago tried in the early 2000’s it seemed they could never catch a break. The toughest of those bad breaks came in the form of former Duke standout Jay Williams.
If you watched College Basketball in the early part of the decade, you knew who the Duke Blue Devils were. Not only did they pump put championships like they were manufacturing them on the East Coast, but they constantly turned out NBA players of great quality. One of those Duke standouts with high NBA hopes was Jay Williams, one of the big three stars for the Blue Devils in their 2001 National Championship.
Williams was a superstar during his Junior year at Duke, not only leading his team to a title the year previous, but he earned the Naismith Award and the Wooden Award proving the critics deeming him the best player in college basketball correct. His 841 points as a Sophomore broke a 49-year record held by Dick Groat and Williams was the first Duke player since 1989 to lead the ACC in point averages.
Williams left Duke in 2002 with a sociology degree and 2,079 career points as a Blue Devil. He recorded 36 double-digit scoring efforts during his time at Duke and was one of three players to score at least 600 points for the Blue Devils in 2001 (Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy Jr. being the other two). He, along with Shane Battier, were the only two Duke players to eclipse 700 points in a single season when they did so in 2001 on their way to a title.
After deciding to leave Duke at the peak of his success, Williams entered the NBA Draft to sell high on his college stardom.
The Bulls finished the 2001-02 season in dead last in the Central Division with a record of 21-61. They had dismantled their team both during the previous offseason and again during the season adding young stars Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry and veteran Jalen Rose to try and speed up the rebuilding process and exact immediate results.
Looking to add to their core of Chandler, Curry and J-Rose, the Bulls used their second overall selection in the 2002 NBA Draft on Jay Williams, hoping to have him fill the void at PG left by Jamal Crawford being injured the previous season. Williams brought the stardom he created at Duke to Chicago and competed with Crawford for the starting point guard position. The Bulls drafted Williams with the expectation he would continue his collegiate success at the NBA level and be the face and leader of the young Bulls squad.
Williams didn’t impress many during his 2002 rookie campaign. He did however create a level of hope and potential that with some work, he could translate Jay Willams: Duke Star into Jay Williams: Bulls Superstar. He created such buzz by recording his first triple-double on November 9th against the New Jersey Nets. Williams recorded season highs in points, assists and rebounds in his 45 minutes on the court. Expectations and excitement surrounding Williams were growing rapidly.
Williams entered the offseason having seemingly won the Point Guard position for the 2003 season. The Bulls were reportedly in talks with the Seattle SuperSonics about dealing Jamal Crawford whom they deemed irrelevant in their backcourt with Williams as an anchor. But on the evening of June 19th, all of that changed. Williams was involved in a serious motorcycle accident that almost claimed his life and put his young NBA career in serious doubt.
Williams crashed his week old Yamaha motorcycle into a streetlight post at the intersection of Fletcher and Honore on Chicago’s North Side, severing a main nerve in his leg, fracturing his pelvis and tearing three ligaments in his left knee including his ACL. Williams was rushed to the Illinois Masonic Medical Center where he was placed in critical condition. Williams survived his accident, undergoing surgery to repair his leg and pelvis. Williams was not wearing a helmet at the time of his accident nor was he licensed to operate a motorcycle in the state of Illinois.
A witness claimed he saw Williams fly ten feet in the air after slamming into the pole.
The accident all but ended Williams run as a Bull before it could even get off the ground. The Bulls drafted Kansas point guard Kirk Hinrich a week later in the 2003 NBA Draft and eventually bought out Williams contract for $3 million after learning Williams would need Physical Therapy to regain use of his leg. After showing such promise and being invested in so deeply by the Bulls, Jay Willams never again suited up for the Chicago Bulls.
Williams eventually returned to basketball in 2006, impressing scouts with his rehabilitation and was given a non-garunteed contract by the New Jersey Nets. Williams didn’t make the regular season roster and was cut on October 22, at which time he began playing for the Austin Toros of the NBA D-League. Williams basketball career ended on December 30, 2006 when he was waived by the Toros due to injury.
Williams now does commentary work for ESPN and has done work as an analyst for CBSSportsline.com as a college basketball expert. He tried out for the Miami Heat prior to the 2010-11 season, but has stated he has no plans on continuing his playing career at this point. Williams will always have his Duke days to remember and will forever be known as a classic ‘What if…” story in sports. His short run with the Bulls wasn’t a lights out tenure, but it left much to be desired from the standout who helped Duke win it’s first national title since 1992.
He was never a legend and will fade into obscurity, with the mention of his name in NBA circles being predicated by the question: “Do you remember…”