Jay Williams talks motorcycle accident and rebuilding his life: Part I


In a recent visit with The David Glenn Show, ESPN analyst and former Duke star Jay Williams discusses his new book Life Is Not An Accident, which recounts the motorcycle accident that altered his playing career and the way he bounced back in the years that followed.


What made you tell a story about both the beautiful peaks and the lowest valleys of your life?

Williams: First of all, when I came up with the name, I thought it was a great play on words. Secondly, everybody in their life has had some kind of accident, granted mine just happened to be a motorcycle accident. But I know people that have gone through divorces that have handled them miserably. I’ve seen people lose their jobs that have sinked them into a state of depression for years. I’ve seen people lose family members, loved ones. Whatever it might be in your life, this book is to reveal that we’re all human. We all have our stuff that we deal with in our life. Just because we keep this facade on the outside where we smile and everything’s great, it doesn’t actually mean that we live our lives that way.

For me, it was a matter of just being open and being honest. It was a cathartic process for me, and it was also a process that it helped me heal a ton of wounds. It forced my family to have discussions. It forced me to have difficult conversations with friends about who I was back in my early 20s and how I decided to live my life, and how that affected my different friendships. It forced me to be honest with myself about difficult things that I went through. It’s a process that I hope people get a chance, maybe it’s not writing a book, but instead of shunning their pains away from the past, it’s deciding to embrace that stuff. This isn’t truly defining my character, but it’s a part of my journey. It’s not until you accept that until you truly become powerful in life.


When writing a book, obviously you have to go through the process of determining what needs to be included and which details are going to be excluded. What did that first draft look like compared to what we can all see now?

Williams: The first draft was two-and-a-half years of also soliciting people around you for their advice. I care about the people around me, and I really am attune to their attention to detail and how things work from their perspective. It’s also difficult when you start asking everybody, “How do you feel about this? How do you feel about that?” They’ll respond, “I don’t feel comfortable with this. I want you to change that.” You start writing your book based upon how everybody else is going to feel, and then you automatically lose your own voice and your own interpretations when you do that.

That was a difficult process for me. It wasn’t easy. When you’re writing about it, I’m going to have to talk to Coach K about the fact that we snuck out sometimes when we were players. That’s not who I am now at 34, but that’s who I was when I was 17, 18 in a rebellious state. How am I going to handle that? Once again, it forces you to have those difficult conversations, and I finally got to the point where hopefully this book can help others, but first and utmost, I need to write this book for me. I need to be honest with myself. That’s the only way I think people are going to appreciate the stories, if you’re candid, you’re blunt and you admit your faults. This is not a book of a pity story. I had a pity story for a long time, but this is a book about how to pick yourself back up.


Coach K was among the first people to visit you in the hospital after your accident. What was his message to you at that time?

Williams: Well, it’s the same message that I’m sure Paul George got when he got hurt with USA Basketball. He has this innate ability to get you to look past the moment of suffrage. For me, as I give a moment that night, I was as low as you can possibly be. You’re literally coming in and out of consciousness, and when you open your eyes, you see all these different metal plates and metal pins inserted into your body. It’s almost one of those things where you keep opening your eyes and you keep praying that it’s a dream. Please let this be a dream. Then when you see your head coach walking in the room, all these emotions come to this point, this culmination point where you’re so apologetic. You’re thinking about, “I threw away my career. I threw away my life for something so idiotic.” Before I could even start to cry, before I could even start to talk to him about pain that I’m witnessing in that moment, he holds my hand and says, “No, you’re going to give this back to me when you play again.”

He just gets me to focus on the positive and gets me to focus on the task at hand. I think that’s what makes him a brilliant motivator and a brilliant coach. When you play a game of basketball, it’s very similar to life. You’re going to go through ups and downs in that game. My freshman year, I turned the ball over a ton. It was always his ability to get me out of my own funk and get me to think about the next play that helped me become successful on the next play. That’s very similar to what we have to go through in life. Once again, he wants to coach me in the bigger game, which is the game of life. For him to hand me his mother’s rosary at that given moment and squeeze my hand while it’s in his hand into mine and not allow any room of doubt in my brain and said, “No, you’re going to give this rosary back to me when you play basketball again because you are going to play again.” That’s the brilliance of a man who continues to inspire me and surprise me to this day. That’s reinvention within itself, and he continues to do so even with these 17- and 18-year-old kids today.

Check back Sunday for Part II of the interview.