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I Will Play Again Six months after his devastating motorcycle accident, Bulls guard Jay Williams tells where he's been, and where he intends to go

Jan. 12, 2004
Jan. 12, 2004

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Jan. 12, 2004

I Will Play Again Six months after his devastating motorcycle accident, Bulls guard Jay Williams tells where he's been, and where he intends to go

I was pretty messed up when Mike Krzyzewski, my old Duke coach,
walked into the intensive care unit at my hospital in Chicago on
June 20. It was less than 24 hours after my motorcycle accident,
and doctors were wondering if they'd have to amputate my left
leg. Coach K had been in Colorado at a speaking engagement, and
when he heard what happened to me, he took his private plane to
Chicago. As he stood at my bed, he slipped off a pendant he was
wearing around his neck; it had a picture of Mary on one side and
OUR LADY OF MOUNT CARMEL PRAY FOR US on the other. He handed it
to me and said, "Give this back when you step foot on the court
again." I started crying and said, "I'll give this back to you
soon."

This is an article from the Jan. 12, 2004 issue

"Soon" has turned into months, but I'm still determined to play
again in the NBA. I won't lie to you: The mental part of the
comeback, dealing with regret, has been hard. I had everything
I'd ever wanted--I'd just finished my rookie season with the
Bulls--and I put myself in jeopardy by riding a motorcycle I'd
owned for a week. It was about 4 p.m., and I was going from my
apartment to meet a friend in the city. Near the intersection of
Honore and Fletcher, I hit a slick spot, and my back wheel
started slipping. I skidded sideways and wound up smashing into a
utility pole. I remember lying on the ground, thinking, Will I be
able to play basketball again? Then the ambulance came, the pain
began, and I had a more basic question: Would I live?

I would, of course, but the situation wasn't good. The impact
severed a nerve in my left leg, fractured my pelvis and tore
three of the four ligaments in my left knee. I had two operations
that saved my leg, and then, two weeks later, I went to Durham,
N.C., for rehab at the Duke University Medical Center. My parents
came down from New Jersey to help me for a few months, and then
my fiancee, Noelle, made trips as well. I can drive the 10
minutes to the center myself now, but that four or five hours of
daily physical therapy is mental torture--the same stretches and
exercises, over and over. Afterward I sometimes go to the courts
at Duke. I'll walk to the foul line, put down my crutches and
take shots.

I don't have a timetable for getting back, but in two weeks I'll
be off the crutches. After I start walking, I'll start jogging,
then running. I have to get my coordination back. In August I
talked with Bobby Hurley, who also played point guard at Duke and
in the NBA and who almost died in a car wreck in 1993. Bobby said
I shouldn't rush. He said to let my body tell me when it's time.
He came back just eight or nine months after his accident. That
was crazy, but Bobby wanted to play so bad. I understand.

Right now I'm on injured reserve. The Bulls' G.M., John Paxson,
stuck with me this year; the team is paying my salary [$3.7
million] even though it's not obligated to. For business reasons
the Bulls may buy out the remaining two years of my contract, but
both Paxson and I expect me to be in a Bulls uniform next year.

For sure I'll never ride a motorcycle again, but I've stopped
beating myself up for riding one in June. Hey, I lived and I
learned. Everyone makes mistakes. It's how you face those
mistakes that makes you who you really are. I'm finding out who I
am.

To some degree that means not forgetting who I was. I watch tapes
of myself playing, I went back to my locker and brought home
sweats and socks to remind myself of how hard I used to practice.
I stay in touch with teammates like Jamal Crawford. The Mavs'
Steve Nash, who I love playing against, wrote me and said that if
anyone has the will to make it back, I do.

Am I hoping for too much when I say I'm headed back to the NBA?
I've always been the guy who goes for the big star in the sky. My
dad says I need to go for the little stars between the big stars.
That's O.K.: Small steps can take you a long way.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY STEVE BRODNER