ESPN’s Jay Williams Talks Oxy Addiction, Career-Ending Accident In New Memoir

By Paul Gaita 01/28/16

The former Chicago Bull and Duke standout opens up about his addiction.

Jay Williams

Jay Williams’ rollercoaster ride from the top of NCAA basketball to the depths of drug addiction has been documented in countless media outlets since the motorcycle crash in 2003 that ended his career. Williams, now an analyst on ESPN, is providing his own perspective on the peaks and valleys of his life in a new memoir titled Life is Not an Accident: A Memoir of Reinvention.

In the book, Williams recounts his fall from stratospheric heights in professional basketball. During his tenure at Duke University, he amassed a stellar collection of laurels for a college player, including NCAA Champion in 2001, two-time NABC Player of the Year, and two-time first-team All-American. By his senior year, Williams had seen his jersey number 22 retired and his name enshrined in the record books as the first Duke player to lead the league in scoring since 1989.

In 2002, Williams’ rise to stardom was all but ensured when he was selected in the second overall pick in the 2002 draft by the Chicago Bulls. He showed initial promise in his rookie year, but any progress came to an immediate halt in June 2003, when Williams crashed his motorcycle into a street light at an intersection in Chicago. He was left with a severed main nerve in his leg, a fractured pelvis, and damaged ligaments in his knee. While undergoing extensive and grueling physical therapy, Williams was waived by the Bulls.

Determined to return to basketball, Williams essentially taught himself to walk again, and by 2006, had recovered enough to sign with the New Jersey Nets. His tenure there proved short-lived: a torn hamstring forced him to part with the Nets after a month, and a stint with an NBA Development Team, the Austin Spurs, proved equally short-lived.

Gripped by depression, he moved to New York and was soon in the throes of an addiction to OxyContin. Williams found himself blacking out in clubs and subway platforms, and soon reached his bottom. After locking himself in his bedroom, he consumed a bottle of Oxy and a bottle of whiskey and passed out in the hopes that he would not awaken. “To my disappointment,” Williams writes in his memoir, “I woke up the next day. Still in the same place.”

Realizing that an immediate change was needed, Williams kicked his habit cold turkey and began mentoring aspiring basketball players. He found work on the other side of the court as a recruiter for a sports agency, and as an analyst with CBS and ESPN. Today, Williams balances his analyst work with the network and the motivational speaker circuit. The book sums up his current state in simple terms: he is “at peace with [himself].”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.