By Rory Winston
Photos by Andrew H. Walker for Getty Images
Larger than life: for both a literal and figurative translation see under ‘Deron Williams.’ Entering his high ceilinged Tribeca home is like walking onto an installation by Jeff Koons where a contemporary god wrought of cast iron and aluminum stoically stands with hands extended in greeting. That this three-time NBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, is as unpretentious as his (6 ft. 3 in. 209 lb) figure is imposing, is a testament to D-Will’s integrity both on and off the court.
Known as the Point Guard with a deceptively shy manner and a killer instinct, Williams is a new breed of American athlete; one who – having played for Besiktas in Turkey during the infamous 2011 NBA lockout – is familiar with societies beyond US borders and one who sees women as perfectly capable role models for boys. The latter quality is in great part due to Deron’s own mother, Denise Williams, a woman who had not only singlehandedly raised him and his younger brother, Kendall, but had been a basketball promise in her own right, having played Point Guard (!) for West Liberty State College.
Moving from West Virginia to a Dallas suburb at an early age, Williams rose quickly from the ranks of gym rat to genuine contender in everything from tennis to wrestling to basketball. By high school, he’d embarked on a course that would shape his future: he’d met bride to be Amy Williams; and he started playing the game that would lead him from Dallas to the Fighting Illini (University of Illinois) to NBA’s Utah Jazz and finally to our very own Brooklyn Nets.
SWISH OVER SWAG
Eschewing flashy moves, Williams is the solid player you can always count on. As a Starting Point for Utah Jazz, he was the ‘quiet conductor,’ ‘the instrument of choice,’ ‘the underlying score for scorers’ and the player most noted for his captain-like qualities. By the time Williams was traded to the NJ Nets in 2011, he had become the first in NBA history to record 20 points and 10 or more assists in 5 consecutive playoff games. Aficionados suspected they were watching the all-time best Point man.
In March 2012, Williams surpassed the Nets ‘single game high’ by scoring 57 points. By July of that year, he signed a 98.7 million dollar contract to stay on. This was just as the team left Newark, moving back to NY for the first time since 1977 (the occasion prompting minority franchise owner and native Jay-Z to announce the rechristening of the Brooklyn Nets). Playing in Barclays Center, Williams was now in close proximity to Maimonides Medical Center – the team’s official hospital and as fate would have it, the very place where the son he adopted in Utah, DJ, was born.
No referee, one-on-one. Ball’s in my court. Williams betrays no signs of hubris. He forgoes mentioning achievements I forget to bring up. Not one for hype or gratuitous attention, his responses are terse and marked by a desire to get the job done.
A BUZZER BEATER
Like many of the more conscientious superstars, Williams is about giving back. I bounced around some questions: clothes, luxury items…Questions blocked. I’m dribbling in place. I ask what he likes doing in his spare time. Williams steals the ball, bypasses the subject of hobbies and responds like a man on a mission, “Amy and I are very much into growing the Point of Hope Foundation. We started it nine years ago and at the time, we had our first child and both felt there’s something we can do for less fortunate kids.”
“Our causes range from juvenile diabetes to autism, to cancer clinics,” Williams says, moving up court. “We give scholarships, host youth clubs and try to help low-income and homeless families. Once we had this Christmas dinner for single moms and that really got to me. Don’t forget, I grew up with a single mom… a remarkable woman, a phenomenal mother.”
When Williams realized that his third (of four) child, DJ, suffered from a form of autism, raising awareness became a personal crusade. “We adopted DJ and the two of us got very close. Actually, from all my kids, he’s the one who always liked being with me most – a real daddy’s boy. Anyway, at 18 months he gets diagnosed with autism and I’m like wow! I heard of it but what exactly is there to do?”
After some effort, a choked up Williams drives on, “With autism, families live through different stages… first, there’s denial. ‘Not my kid!’ You know, so many refuse to have their kid tested. But that’s the single most important thing to do. They need to get in there and give it their all.” Williams looks up as though a ball had frozen midair: “The earlier people know, the faster they can do something positive.”
When I tell Williams that I’ve heard he’s an ambassador for Autism Speaks, he smiles bashfully and concedes, “Yeah, ambassador – it’s what they call it; but mostly what’s important is that the message gets out. People need to face autism head on. I understand what these families are going through because of my own history. Twenty years ago, few people would have spoken about it. Lots of kids had it but there wasn’t much in the way of help. Today, it’s easier to do something relevant – we can raise awareness, get it diagnosed, we can respond and find ways to tackle some of the symptoms.”
Hosting a dodgeball tournament on Monday, September 15, 2014, at Basketball City – Pier 36, Williams hopes the charity receives much needed attention and garners financial contributions. “It’s called Dodge Barrage,” announces Williams eagerly, “This is the fifth big fundraiser. We did a golf-related event before and a lot of similar stuff in Utah. This is the second one in NY. We’ll have celebrities, create a team and I know it’ll raise awareness for this underfunded cause. Those who came last year, really enjoyed it.”
THE ANNUAL TIMEOUT
“Yeah, Tribeca is a great area” Williams reflects, “Mr. Chow, Nobu… an endless number of great restaurants, night life and young families. It’s quieter than Soho where I stayed the first year.” ¨
Williams stares at his shiny door, then glances at the ceiling; next, he boldly rejoins the conversation as if set on a man-to-man defense. “I’m not going to lie. I don’t really feel so much like a New Yorker. I grew up in an apartment in Texas where you could send your kids outside like ‘yeah, go play in the sun.’ Here it’s more challenging. The process of getting them into school is a nightmare. Even private schools where you pay are an ordeal. In Utah, you just send your kids to the first public school in the area because they’re all great. Truth is, we enjoy getting away from the hustle and bustle and going back to Utah every summer. It’s a relief to take that timeout. No traffic. No crowds. My daughters still have their friends there. There’s a big backyard. They go to the pool; the playground and they jump on the trampoline. Kids running wild and free here…? I don’t think so.”
PICK AND ROLL
“What constitutes a New Yorker?” Williams gives way to a wonderfully open smile and says: “Taking the subway… which, by the way, I love to take.” He anticipates my move and intercepts: “Yes, of course I have a chauffeured car but the subway is way faster.” Eyes on the invisible basket overhead he continues, “Second thing is the New York/Brooklyn accent – which I don’t have.” Then looking me in the eyes his words seemingly jump beyond my reach, “Third thing is New Yorkers are tough. Or at least they think they are.”