Jay Williams is accustom to seeing people around him get cut from the team: from his days dominating high school basketball in New Jersey to winning Duke’s third National Championship, and most recently, euro-stepping ESPN’s 100-plus layoffs a few weeks ago. No matter the profession, no matter the goal, the blossoming TV personality seems to always have the foundational traits needed for immediate success, be it explosive athleticism or a kind, inquisitive spirit. However, as a superstar athlete whose career ended after an unfortunate motorcycle accident following his rookie season in the NBA, Jay doesn’t need the mass firing of peers to remind him that it’s the intangibles — the countless hours spent perfecting a craft — that lead to a long and fulfilling career.
We caught up with Jay Williams during his recent, and rare, stint at home in New York to talk about the ESPN layoffs, how he’s making sure he’s not next, and what the future of sports media is trending towards. Since we had his ear, we also asked for his opinion on Lonzo and LaVar Ball, the NBA draft, and of course, his daily Essentials.
So tell us about your camera; do you think more journalists should be documenting the world around them with a camera, as a way to build legitimacy around their name?
Yeah, I don’t think our culture or our society wants to see professionalism anymore, like things being so perfect that it’s not real. Even when we shoot things, the quality of it is good, I’m not Scorsese, but you’re capturing those real life moments. Like you and I kicking it right now is a real life moment. Sometimes when people see you on TV, they wonder if that’s a facade, and a lot of the times it is a facade. I know people in traditional media where they go to work and they put on their face and when they come off they’re like “motherfucker this” and “blah blah blah.” [I’m] like “whoa, you didn’t curse the whole time you were on air,” but there’s a level of professionalism. My thing is that I think the worlds are clashing right now and it’s cool to be able to say when I’m on air I’m not going to curse because I work for Disney, but when I’m off air, when I’m in NYC, I’m actually going to say shit once and awhile. I’m real, I understand where I came from.
So yes, you are seeing me on TV, and yes, you are seeing me when I’m off. These are all me.
Do you think that’s what has been missing from ESPN for so long: anchors being true to themselves and showcasing a bit of personality, on and off the air?
I think ESPN had that with guys like Stuart Scott, rest in peace, but I think that’s something everyone is trying to get caught up on. And obviously, look, there’s major advantages that I think HYPEBEAST, Worldstar and companies like that have that blend culture and sports, and I think there’s some sports entities that are a little late to picking that up, getting to where they need to be. But as long as they’re moving in the right direction… We just did something with Lil Dickie and the Ball family that I produced, and we pushed that through ESPN, and people were like “yo what’s this, are we trying to be funny again?” I’m like “yeah, that’s what sports is.” We’re a clash of culture with comedic value. You know, being one of the youngest guys we have over there and kind of leading that roll, that’s where I see myself going.
I imagine a lot of your friends we’re laid off, but ESPN obviously saw something in you to keep you around. That’s got to be bittersweet, right?
It is. That week was a difficult week for me, but I’ve been doing TV for 11 years, and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing at first. A lot of people that got laid off were in the trenches with me and helped me figure out what lane I was running in. So to see them go, it sucks, but that just inspires me to work harder because I don’t take shit for granted. All of this “stardom” could be here today and gone tomorrow, and I’ve already been through it once. My thing is, I talk to my boys about this, I just try to put my head down and work harder. I feel like my life is work, I see work through that prism. I don’t have the fortunate latitude to turn that switch off. My switch is always on. I’m just trying to take it to another level.
A lot of people that got laid off were in the trenches with me and helped me figure out what lane I was running in. So to see them go, it sucks, but that just inspires me to work harder because I don’t take shit for granted.
It seemed as if a lot of those guys that were laid off were from the older era of traditional journalists…
Yeah, but even traditional journalism is kind of being thrown out the window right now. People want to see more opinionated articles or “tell me what you think about this.” My thing is: Gary V (Gary Vaynerchuk) is my boy, Scooter Braun is my boy, these are people that are blazing paths, so it’s like “alright, how can I become that entity within my respective world, how can I recreate what we thought sports was and make it different and unique?” And I don’t even need to be on TV. TV is great, but I’m watching TV through the prisms of my social media, that’s what TV is to this generation. So creating content within that realm is where we want to be in, but who knows where it’ll go after that.
Speaking of social media, you’ve been creating a lot of great content on your Instagram; what else are you working on?
I’m doing something cool with Mike Tyson — that’s a little tease (laughs). I’ve been creating some new content with The Players’ Tribune… My thing is that I want to help; you saw Ryan Seacrest just become Kelly Ripa’s new co-host, but Ryan was one of the first people to kind of lift it off and own some of his own content. So my thing is that I want to help other athletes own their own content and build their own infrastructure, like D-Wade does it already — he has a vault of stuff, he’s been documenting all of this stuff, that’s value. So I want to help other athletes create that same value while still taking an EP role… And we got a lot of stuff in the vault, a lot of stuff coming out, it should be cool.
You mentioned working with the Ball family; what are your thoughts on Lonzo and LaVar?
I don’t think he’s going at it the wrong way. I think when you force the hand of one of the big three and remove them from the equation, I don’t like that move. I think you always have to keep them at arm’s length, keep them right there, keep the allure. I would’ve done it differently, but I respect the avenue he’s going. It’s the same thing we’re looking at with social media, eventually you’re going to start licensing your own product, but the only problem is, you need something to catapult your product. I would’ve utilize one of the big three to help gain more exposure. I would’ve just had more hand in the creative process, and I don’t think athletes do that. Athletes sign with brand, they’ll be with that brand for a year, then they’ll bitch and complain that the brand isn’t really doing anything for him or her, and I’ll say “well, have you been out to Oregon, have you been to Baltimore, have you sat down with the creative team, are you coming up with some ideas, are you thinking outside of the box for yourself, or are you just allowing your agent to do that because your agent is getting 20%? Agents just want to get your money and step off.
If I were LaVar or Lonzo, I would’ve said “okay, let me sign with you guys for a year or two, let me sit down with you at the creative table, let’s come up with some different content, let me work with other people who are social influencers to push said content, let me build my brand to the point where in two years if I do become that dude within the league now I can be like you really need to pay.” Or I can take that two or three million that you gave me and invest in myself and create your own brand.
I respect the avenue he’s going. It’s the same thing we’re looking at with social media, eventually you’re going to start licensing your own product, but the only problem is, you need something to catapult your product.
It feels all so rushed.
You can’t rush into it because you don’t know what the hell you want to do, and secondly, I don’t know the personality of Lonzo Ball, I know that he’s a beast on the court, I know that we compare him to Jason Kidd, but it takes personality to sell shoes. I don’t know what the brand of Lonzo Ball is. So until you establish the brand… I understand what they’re trying to establish with the Triple B, but the reality is: nobody knows LiAngelo, nobody knows… I mean, I know LaMelo, and I actually think LaMelo might be the best out of all three because he has personality that kind of explodes on the scene, and I respect Lonzo for being a quiet kid, but nobody outside the realm of college basketball knows who he is, so how are you captivating that audience, how are you tapping into that audience. That’s why I would’ve went with a brand at first, just to kind of come out of the gate hot.
Ok, let’s switch it up; with the NBA Draft just a month away, which prospects should we be paying attention to?
I’d go with a guy like De’Aaron Fox, that kid plays with piss and vinegar 24/7. He’s one of the Kentucky one-and-dones, but one of the things that I started fucking with him over was that I saw him after they lost [to UNC] and he was crying on national TV, and I like cats that show you that it hurts, because at the end of the day, that’s all that you have with this game: your pride. Some people play this game for money or because they’re tall or athletic or have that skill-set, but there’s not that level of heart or that grit with it, and he carries that. It hurts him when he loses games. He doesn’t care about being a top five pick, he rather have won the championship.
I think Josh Jackson from Kansas is another one. He’s a two-way dude. A lot of people just want to come in the league to score, and I mean, he can score, he’s going to pick his spots, but he’s also 6’8’’, so he’s going to lock you up. He’s going to be the guy that guards Paul George, the guy guarding some of the bigger wings like Kawai or Joe Johnson. That’s the dude that you’re going to be like “go get him,” and he has the energy where he won’t stop, 24/7.
What about hoopers in high school, who are you looking at?
I like Zion Williamson… See that’s the kind of stuff, that’s a package, he’s becoming a brand, nobody’s packaged him correctly yet, but that’s where if someone starts working him — I know we still have this whole thing with amateurism and the NCAA that I think is complete BS — but that’s where he needs to start thinking outside the box. What I’m saying is that we all package ourselves in a certain way, I mean how many times do you see people walking down the street documenting what they’re doing, be it with Snapchat or any of the social media channels? So my thing for all of these athletes, just start thinking about how you portray yourself, and think about yourself as a brand, like what’s your logo, what is your motto going to be, etc. Start influencing people so when you arrive on the scene they know something about you.
Do you find that troubling: pushing kids to think of themselves as brands before they turn pro or actually do something noteworthy?
No, it’s not wrong. Everyone thinks about their brand 24/7, whether they are being conscious of the fact that they’re doing it or not, everyone does it. You know, when I’m at home and I see people smoking blunts on Instagram, I’m like “okay, that’s what you’re saying your brand is.” I don’t have any problem with it, there’s nothing wrong with it, but if that’s who you’re portraying — it’s one thing to say it, it’s another thing to let it be seen. People are doing it [branding themselves] 24/7 anyways, it’s just about how are you filtering that conversation.
I’m different now at 35 than I was at 21, so I like brands that show people the evolution, like “we started from here and now we’re here.” I respect that. Last year, before the bracket came out, I had a chance to talk to Jay Z on the phone, and he was like “I’m not doing the same shit I was doing 20 years ago. I understand that’s where I’m from, but this is who I am now, and this is where I want to go.” so as long as you take your culture through the evolution process, that pays dividends to me because people are watching you grow, and we’re all growing whether you want to say that to the public or not.
As far as the NBA is concerned, what are you looking forward to?
I think we’re going to start to see the dismantling of the Clippers, and it’ll be interesting to see what CP3 does. I was at Melo’s wedding, this was awhile ago, and I remember watching CP3 and Melo talk about playing on the same team, I wonder if that comes to fruition, considering Melo can waive his no trade clause.
Utah is the real deal. [Coach Quin] Snyder has done a hell of a job; they’ve just been quietly building. [There's] some studs on that squad.
But at the end of the day, we’re still going to see Cleveland and G-state, and I’m going to take G-state to win. I don’t know if Kevin Durant is going to be fully healthy… but LeBron? I don’t know, it’s hard to go against LeBron. You know what, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. I’m just going to sit back and watch the Finals like everyone else.
This NBA season was more of a soap opera than it’s ever been; what are you thoughts on this year’s drama-filled year?
I love it. It’s reality tv. It’s the best thing ever.
What are you favorite, and least favorite, off-court moments from this season?
I loved the Draymond & Drake stuff because I love when people bust each other’s balls and can take it. It’s fun, it’s back and forth. I loved the Shaw and JaVale McGee sage. On the JaVale side, he’s a millionaire in the big scheme of things and everyone is raging on him, but he’s still putting in work and he had that dunk the other night and I was like “he should’ve been ‘how you think about that, Shaq?’”
I don’t have too many down moments. Obviously when someone loses somebody — I go to Boston, I go to Isaiah — you lose a family member, it’s happened a couple of times throughout the league [this season]. It’s so hard to play a game after that, it just puts life in perspective. Like what I’m doing is cool, and I love it, I have a chance to influence lives, and you try to play for that person, but when you lose somebody, that’s the lowest of the lows. But all the comedic stuff on the side, the trash talking, I love it, that’s entertainment, that’s what we are in sports.
Lastly, I know you’re friends with Tony Romo; do you have an words of advice for him as he’ll soon be a host for NFL games?
Nah, man, Tony has been my boy for a couple of years now, and we were sitting down a year ago around the Final Four for dinner, and he was talking to me, and I was like “yo, why are you playing?” I mean, some people are just brilliant, they just got it, and that dude can talk to you about anything, formations, routes, all the intricacies of what it takes to be a quarterback or wide receiver or offensive lineman. I’m proud of him; he doesn’t need any advice from me. I actually commend him because I don’t think people recognize how difficult it is to walk away from a sport you love. I could still be trying to play basketball overseas, because I’m addicted to the game, but to be able to compartmentalize and say “ok, what’s in the best interest of my health” and walk away on your own two feet and still be able to walk into a job that’s going to pay great money for the next 30 years, if he chooses to, I commend him for it.
- Image Credit
- Keith Estiler/HYPEBEAST