Out of Tragedy, New Life

Jason Williams, the player, died.”

He was talking about Jay Williams, who played at Duke and went on to join the Chicago Bulls

Mike Krzyzewski, who coached Williams while he was a Duke, made the comment on a recent episode of Real Sports with  Bryant Gumbel.

He was referring to the tragic story of Jason Williams, who was a star college athlete and went on to join the N.B.A. with nothing but promise and prosperity ahead of him. Several years ago, he had just gotten back home from mentoring a group of college kids wanting to or already playing basketball. He was on top of the world and on top of his game. He had inherited the locker of Michael Jordan. He had gotten to Emerald City, so to speak, and had found himself, or perhaps affirmed the “self” he knew.

Then it all came apart. When he got back home from mentoring those students, he decided to take a ride on his motorcycle. To say that the decision to do that was one he will probably regret until the day he dies is an understatement , because on that evening, something went terribly wrong as he rode his motorcycle. He ended up in a horrific crash which resulted in his left leg being injured almost to the point of no return. While doctors worried about whether or not they could save his leg, young Williams, who was only 21 at the time, worried about whether or not he’d ever play professional basketball again.

His leg made it; his career didn’t. He retired from the N.B.A. at the age of 21, and began to be known by some as “the boy who threw it all away.”

Jason Williams, or “Jay” Williams, as he was called, the player …died …although he survived the crash. He was a dead man walking, going through the motions for a long time after the life-saving surgeries he underwent saved that leg. Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski was right.  He was a dead man walking at the tender age of 21.

To say that he sunk into depression is an understatement, more probably made worse because it seemed that many blamed him for his own predicament. He shouldn’t have gotten on that stupid motorcycle; even his N.B.A. contract forbade it. Those who ran the business of basketball knew the dangers that could snatch star players off the court and out of contention. These were young men signing to play ball; they knew about money and fame, because we in America are surrounded by the quest for both. But as youngsters, they didn’t know Life, and how Life isn’t fair. Young folks are not too keen about listening to older folks, so the “older folks” of the N.B.A., those who make their livings by knowing how to make and keep profits, have to step in and do what they need to do to protect their interests. They know that the lure of excitement, for young folks, is sometimes hard to fight.

So it was with Jay Williams. For a moment of pleasure, he threw the life he loved …away.

Williams was depressed for years, to the point of being suicidal.

And then it began to dawn on him that life hadn’t ended, just life as he had known it. There were parts of himself he knew nothing about. He hadn’t died and so it occurred to him that he might as well begin to live again. Today, at age 31, he is doing that.

The job for us, when we goof up, is to keep on going, to reinvent ourselves. Sometimes, goofing up is the best gift we can give ourselves. No, it isn’t fun to look past goofs in the face and have to “own” that we were so …human…but the fact is that humans make mistakes, and sometimes, really bad ones. When that happens, we want to curl up and die, or settle down into saucers of despair and self pity …and worse.

That’s what Jay Williams had done.

But when we life Life a chance to be …what Life is …an opportunity to go in so many directions, we are pleasantly surprised to find out that, inside of us all, there is more than we ever imagined. Through the reinvention of ourselves, we grow. That’s what Life wants, ultimately.

Ask Jay Williams. Ask President Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart, Anthony Weiner, for goodness’ sake.

Life “ain’t been no crystal stair,” as Langston Hughes, for any of us. It was never intended to be.

A candid observation …



One thought on “Out of Tragedy, New Life

  1. Life is truly about taking those lemons and making them into lemonade. We often can’t change our circumstances, but we can change our attitude towards them, and our motivation and determination to rise from our failures and turn them into successes.

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