Jason Williams may be done with the NBA, but the point guard whose flashy game conjured up visions of Pete Maravich during a scintillating pro career isn’t ready to say goodbye to the game of basketball just yet.
“I will love it until the day I die,” he says.
Now 40 years old and five years removed from his last professional game, “White Chocolate,” as Williams was best known during a 13-year NBA run that included stops in Sacramento, Memphis (twice), Miami, Orlando and Toronto, is proving that he’s still got game, with dominant performances overseas, in the Orlando Summer Pro-Am League and with his strong recent play in “The Basketball Tournament.”
It’s obviously not the same as doing it every night in the NBA against the world’s best, but Williams, a former University of Florida star before becoming being selected seventh overall by Sacramento in the 1998 NBA Draft, is once again showcasing the same ridiculous handles, deft ball fakes and no-look passes that made him a fan favorite and Must-See TV immediately upon entering the league.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Only it’s now kids half his age who are the ones getting shamed into the highlight reels with his ankle-breaking crossovers and overall freestyle wizardry.
Juan Bernal, the head coach of the Pedro’s Posse team that featured Williams in “The Basketball Tournament,” has publicly stated that there’s no doubt in his mind that J-Will could still fill a role as a veteran presence for an NBA contender because of his skill set and advanced basketball IQ.
Maybe, maybe not.
What is for certain is that Williams, who was the starting point guard for the Miami Heat team that won the 2006 NBA Championship, is preparing to soon leave again for China, where he will once more play on a touring USA Legends team that will also include the likes of former NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady.
But not before recently speaking with “The Shadow League” to discuss the current state of his game, the free agent frenzy that has changed the face of the NBA and a myriad of other issues.
The Shadow League: It looks like you definitely still got some serious skillz. Is it hard to believe sometimes that you’re 40 years old and still doing it against some kids half your age?
Jason Williams: A little bit, but not really because these kids nowadays, they’ve got no clue about how to play or what it takes. So as long as I can still move from side-to-side out there, I’ll be fine. My body feels good. I work out three times a week and still play about four times a week, so I still get it in.
TSL: Any thought of giving the NBA one last try?
JW: The way they’re giving this money away [in free agency] I might think about getting in there one more year, but, no, I don’t think so. I’m doing all this travel with my kids. I’m good. I’m still good playing in the Y League. I get my fix during the week, so I’ll be alright.
TSL: What if a situation were to arise where you could possibly reunite with Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City as a backup point guard?
JW: If somebody called and was interested, then I’d have to take a long look at it. I miss playing, but, at the same time, I’ve got so much going on right now. That’d be a tough decision.
TSL: In the meantime, you’re getting ready to head back to China as part of the Legends Tour. What’s that been like for you?
JW: It’s cool to go out there and play, but it’s hard to get there. It’s hard for me to be on that plane for 16 hours. But once I get there, it’s a good time. Just being around the fellas and being in the locker room, that’s what I miss the most about the NBA other than playing.
TSL: Do you always see yourself being involved in the game, no matter what age you are?
JW: I think so. As we speak now, I’m looking for some land now to build a training facility in Orlando to start training kids. I’m bored with my life in so many ways other than just traveling with softball and basketball. During the week, I have nothing to do and I can only golf so much. I want to do something and if I’m going to do something, I can’t have a boss. I have to be my own boss, so I have to do my own thing.
TSL: Ever considered coaching?
JW: I’ve put some thought into maybe someday being a developmental coach or something like that. I think if I can find some land and I can open up this training facility, that’ll be fine. Training kids and maybe having an AAU team or something like that.
TSL: You wouldn’t consider coaching at the high school or collegiate level?
JW: Maybe high school. I don’t think college because that’s too much time away from my family. At least in high school, I think they’ll listen to me more.
TSL: Speaking of coaching, how would you coach a young kid who played with the same kind of flair that you had?
JW: I’d just tell him that he was free to play. If I see him putting in the time working and doing what he was trying to do on the court, then I think we’ll all be fine. But if the shit don’t work, then I’ve got to say something, right? But I would love to coach a kid who would come down and go behind his back on a three-on-one and complete it.
TSL: While covering you at Florida, I would regularly talk with Billy Donovan about the fine line he was forced to walk as a coach in letting you play the way that made you special while also making sure that you played wisely and responsibly with the ball. How difficult was it as a player to navigate that precarious balance?
JW: I always thought I was going to be able to complete every play, so I didn’t worry. If he was going to sit me down, then I was going to deal with that then. I was never thinking I was going to mess it up. I was always thinking it was going to happen and everything was going to be good.
TSL: You took the league by storm upon entering the NBA, with comparisons throughout your career to Pete Maravich because of your skills, ball handling wizardry and great flair. Did that add undue pressure on you to do the spectacular every time?
JW: No, I never felt any pressure. Whatever comes in my mind and what I’m thinking on the court, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not playing for the fans or trying to do certain things other than in maybe an All-Star game. That’s a little different. When I’m playing in a game, if I think I can throw a behind-the-back pass a little quicker and a little easier and get the ball to a shooter – you know he needs it quick – then that’s what I’m going to do.
TSL: You played 13 years in the league. Can you tell me what was your proudest moment? I’m guessing winning an NBA Championship in 2006 with a Miami Heat team that included D-Wade and Shaquille O’Neal had to rank up there.
JW: That’s gotta be, winning a championship in 2006, without a doubt. Partly because it was a dream come true, but I had always had the naysayers throughout my whole career saying that I couldn’t get I done. Obviously, I played with Hall of Famers when we won a championship, but it took more than just D-Wade and Shaq. I think Antoine Walker probably had the best playoff run of anybody on our team. I know D-Wade went off in the Finals, but, without Antoine Walker, we wouldn’t have done it.
TSL: Were you ever surprised about the level of the cultural impact the Jason Williams phenomena had after your entering the league?
JW: I’m definitely surprised at the love I even still get nowadays. Wherever I’m at, it’s just crazy that I get it. I never dreamed of people noticing me or realizing who I was pretty much all over the world wherever I go. As far as any cultural impact, I really don’t look at it like that because kids today aren’t serious about working. They aren’t in the gym working. Somewhere right now, LeBron James is shooting jump shots and Steph Curry is somewhere shooting jump shots right now.
TSL: The NBA is an entirely different world now than when it was five years ago when you left the game. Have you been as stunned as the rest of us to watch all that big free agent money go to some players who are just average at best?
JW: When they started giving that money out, I thought about [coming back]. But I made some money and I’m lucky. But, definitely, I wish I were in my third year in the NBA right now. That’d be awesome. There’s like four, five or six guys who got over $100 million who never even made an All-Star team.
TSL: How are you liking this new chapter of your life?
JW: It’s different. I’ve been used to doing something for 12, 13 years every day of my life. I knew what I was going to do. Now I wake up, eat breakfast and go whichever way the wind is blowing. That’s what I do now, so it’s been a little different.
TSL: You’re happily married with three kids, but your oldest, your son Jaxon, is already a YouTube sensation because of his deft ball handling and passing skills, and he’s only 14. Like father, like son?
JW: He’s not a chip off the old block. The only way he’s a chip off the old block is as far as stubbornness. He could be a good little player if he worked. I’ll say this – he’s taken steps forward. That’s the first time I’ve ever said this about him. He’s taken steps forward to become a little bit better – getting in the weight room, doing a little training, a little skill work and things like that - but he’s got a long ways to go. Don’t let that highlight fool you.