Behind The ScenesNCAAB

ESPN’s Jay Williams shares his journey from traumatic accident in Oprah Winfrey interview

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Williams with Oprah Winfrey as part of her Super Soul Sunday series. (Courtesy Harpo, Inc./George Burns)
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Williams chats with Oprah Winfrey as part of her “Super Soul Sunday” series on OWN. (Courtesy Harpo, Inc./George Burns)

Current ESPN college basketball analyst and former college and NBA Star Jay Williams recently sat down with Oprah Winfrey as part of her “Super Soul Sunday” series (Sunday, March 15, 11 a.m. ET, OWN).

I remember thinking as she walked towards me that this can’t be real, that Oprah was taking the time to hear my story.
– ESPN’s Jay Williams on being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey

Before joining ESPN in 2008, Williams played under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and was the second overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 2002 NBA Draft. A near-fatal motorcycle accident led to the end of Williams’ NBA career in 2003 and to the beginning of a path that brought him to ESPN. He shared his thoughts on the Winfrey interview with Front Row.

What was it like to be interviewed by Oprah?
It was a surreal experience from start to finish. Oprah’s people sent me the questions ahead of time, and they were thought-provoking, making me think about the bigger picture. It gave me an idea of how the interview was going to unfold.

When the interview began, Oprah came across a bridge on her property, and it made me nervous as she came in and really took me a good 10 minutes before I felt like myself. I remember thinking as she walked towards me that this can’t be real, that Oprah was taking the time to hear my story. She was calm and collected, as you would imagine, she didn’t look at her notes. I learned so much from her, on top of telling my story.

Why is it important to tell your story?
I think everyone has made a mistake or had a self-finding incident in their life and for me it was my motorcycle accident. The course of your life depends on how you respond to that and who you surround yourself with. For me it was my parents, Coach K and friends that I made in the various stages in my life that help me get to where I am today. I could have dug a deeper hole and been worse off, but this incident altered my life and in the end I made the best of it.

. . . What was the worst decision I ever made has turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
– Jay Williams on the motorcycle accident that changed his life

How have experiences from your past prepared your for your current role on ESPN?
I think all of my experiences have made me very real and I don’t try to sugar coat things. Working at a place like ESPN, with people such as [fellow College GameDay panelists] Rece Davis, Seth Greenberg and Jay Bilas, it makes every day a challenge but more importantly enjoyable.

I think I bring a unique perspective as a player: played college ball, got drafted into the NBA, got hurt and tried to make a comeback in the D League. I worked as an agent and learned the business side of basketball. It has all made me better, and what was the worst decision I ever made has turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.

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