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Arts & Culture

Jay Williams gets candid on what makes he and his new podcast unique

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NPR

This month professional basketball player and ESPN host Jay Williams launched a podcast with NPR. It’s called The Limits, and he’s interviewing entertainment, pop culture and sports industry guests including Gabrielle Union and Charlamagne tha God. They discuss ways successful people go beyond their limits.

Back in 2002, the Chicago Bulls drafted Williams second overall in the NBA. But he suffered serious injuries in a motorcycle accident about a year after he signed with the team. That derailed his athletic career. But he rebounded. And that’s what he says his new podcast is all about. Williams spoke with WYSO’s Desmond Winton-Finklea, just after he got off First Take on ESPN.

Transcript (edited for clarity):

Jay Williams: You know, I just got done screaming at Stephen A. Smith for the past, you know, 20 minutes. So I'm a little bit riled up right now, I guess is the correct word.

Desmond Winton-Finklea: Okay cool, that'll work, then you know.

Jay: You catch me at a passionate time! Exactly.

Desmond: Exactly, I love it! So to get it kicked off, tell me a little bit about the new podcast and really what's going to make it different from your previous endeavors in the media?

Jay: So, you know, I'll be candid with you Des. I feel like I'm different. I'm a guy who's almost passed away at the age of 21. I had to learn how to walk again, learn how to run again, then quickly transition to a job that made me $35,000 a year and really build my way back up. But I think the things that happened post that accident and pre accident allow me to really have a relatability that I think is unique. At this stage in my life I'm 40 years old, I have two kids, I'm married, my mom has gone through two kidney transplants. She's almost passed away three times this past year through diverticulitis, she's had ostomy bags, she's got congenital heart failure and my dad has had some issues. I'm going through a lot of life like everybody else, and I'm so fascinated speaking to people that are considered to be like at the top of the food chain with what they've been able to accomplish and actually dig a little bit with them about what have been some of the roughest moments in their life. How have they grown or evolved through that? Where is their career now? How did you scale that, right? Like, I have a couple of different businesses I'm involved in. How do I balance being a father and somebody who is ambitious business wise and learning from Gabrielle Union? Excuse my language, you know, f*** balance. You really can't do that right? And hearing it from her perspective, you know, when she says, "Well, you know, I hear interviews that you do or that Dwayne Wade does, and everybody's patting them on the back about getting therapy or patting them on the back about all of the things you're accomplishing. Nobody ever asked them, How do you balance it all?" Right? So understanding that in real time and hearing, you know, her unique POV on that kind of stuff. So those life experiences combined with what we're going through currently [and] just creating a relevant voice around that.

Desmond: So based on your status in the media, I guess "The Limits" could have been picked up by a bunch of platforms. So why NPR? Why our audience?

Jay: It's funny you say status and like, "I wonder what my status is." I never really thought about that. I'm too busy always trying to, you know, put my passion into my content. You know, NPR, there is an emotional attachment for me. Especially in today's age and world, right? And it's not to debase any other platform because there are some amazing platforms out there. But for me, the way I was always pushed to the boundaries of my thinking was that NPR was always the radio station that was on in the background of my house growing up. And my father, whether it was breakfast, dinner...it always forced me to have conversations with him about things that I was listening to on NPR, you know, over a meal. And I think that widened my horizons in so many different ways. It grew my perspective. I was able to learn. But it was immersive learning through conversation. And I think in a time more important than ever, just coming from my screaming match over at First Take, there's a lot of that happening in our society about, "You're right or you're wrong." And there's no deeper search for the silver lining of the story and how we can all learn from it. Like an example of that is everybody's so concerned about Kyrie Irving, you know? Whether he's vaccinated or not vaccinated and how that becomes a story around the NBA. And I'm sitting there saying, "Actually, the narrative needs to be how the NBA is working together due to different municipalities happening in different cities around the country, vaccinated and unvaccinated people coming together, ultimately for the best interests of the business." Why is that not a narrative that we're perpetuating and pushing and talking about, right? It just automatically goes to black or white, and it's the way we see it. And that is my life, man. That analogy is applicable to my life. I was the second pick in the draft. I made a horrible decision that altered my life. I picked myself back up and I'm fortunate to still be here and constantly pushing myself to continue to learn about myself and my surroundings. And how do I become a better man tomorrow than what I was yesterday.

Desmond: And I'm sure, you know, there are a lot of podcasts out there that people listen to. What are you going to do to stand out from the rest? Basically, what are you going to do to say, "Hey, I'm here for you, I'm Jay Williams, and I got something to say."

Jay: I'm extremely vulnerable. I mean, one of the first things I did with Gabrielle Union was, I think, there for a moment I had in my life, I was dating somebody that she knew it was my first public relationship and I was really struggling with the attention that came along with it. I never dealt with that before. And she said something to me in the midst of an evening, whereas like, "You know, Jay, you are enough." Now Gab didn't know me from anybody. I knew Dwayne because of us playing, but I think a lot of those real life scenarios, the real stuff that we end up talking about. But we don't really make [it] open for public consumption. And I think to be able to go there with people and tap into the positives and the negatives of the journey and really extract the blueprint is something that I hope people who listen to the podcast have become part of their rotation. You get a chance to witness and be a part of that growth each and every week that I end up having with myself.

Desmond: And you seem like an intelligent guy, but I know not many people might not know about your past and chess. You think you're going to have any chess or any mental athletes on there, maybe someone like Maurice Ashley on the podcast?

Jay: I don't know. But now you're expanding my horizon, and I have to think about that now. It's almost like Queen's Gambit or stuff like that. I mean, you know, it's really funny when you're younger, you know? Being into books or being into plays or being into history isn't really cool, right? But I was always into those type of things. And as you get older, you recognize the significance of that type of learning. So this is a part that's open for a variety of people that I think have touched me or touched things that I'm interested in a variety of different ways.

Desmond: My final question for you is, being a prominent Black male figure in the media who most would consider, right now, the epitome of success, what will people in Southwest Ohio and those who look to you for representation gain by listening to your podcast "The Limits?"

Jay: That being Black is not being monolithic. I'm a lot of different things, and somebody else who is Black is a lot of different things other than what I am. Does that make them less Black or me less Black than them? It's really pushing the limits and the boundaries of how we think. I'm not going to lie to you Des, that's one of the main reasons I got involved in this. I want to be able to empower our youth by extracting the blueprints of how some of the most successful people have achieved those successes. But I also want to be able to tap into what has came along with that success. That doesn't really get glorified in the American imaging of what Black excellence is, right? And this is for everybody. And I think that's the beauty of the world that I live in. That, yes, there were a lot of challenging moments I had being on TV during George Floyd. There were a lot of challenging moments I had on ESPN talking about some of the issues happening in China. There are a lot of issues that I had raising my daughter and my daughter is a mixture of my wife and I. And my wife is Lebanese and Italian, and my daughter says, “I don’t want to look like you, daddy. I want to look more like mommy.” Like, I have a lot of real life s*** that's happening to me in real time. And just because people deem me to be a certain way because of how I've been able to climb the ladder industry wise. It's like Kyrie Irving said, “You know, fame is socially created.” You know, we all have more in common than what we do apart. And that's what I want to pull out from these stories, and that's who I am as a person.