Jay Williams smells popcorn (Getty Images)
On Saturday a well-circulated and well done piece about former Chicago Bulls point guard Jay Williams hit the newsstands, expertly put together by Greg Bishop of the New York Times. The must-read feature mostly dealt with the more chilling details of his recovery from a 2003 motorcycle accident in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, the harrowing drug-induced recovery, his bouts with depression, and a post-basketball life full of “what might have been?”-anecdotes.
To the NBA fan, one that only saw 75 games worth of Jay Williams as opposed to then-Jason Williams’ illustrious three-year career at Duke, the most compelling revelations had to do with the 2002-03 Chicago Bulls – a strange team that I both covered for nascent websites and followed as an ardent fan. Williams, a rookie on the squad, is quick to point to the immature nature of the club, especially in comparison to his time at Duke. From the Times:
“I didn’t know how to handle it at first,” Williams said. “I didn’t know how to be around it. Guys were on the bench, trying to kick it to girls in the stands, having ball boys run over. I mean, some guys were high.”
Asked to clarify, Williams said: “There were guys smoking weed before games. Guys asking in the middle of the game, ‘Do you smell popcorn?’ ”
He noticed the nervous laughter around the kitchen table. “You think I’m playing,” Williams said. “Can you imagine! Guys are gambling. They’re playing dice in the back of the plane for money. Like, we just lost by 30 tonight! And we’ve got a game tomorrow! It bugged me out.”
A quick study and/or recall of that group leaves these Bulls as prime suspects to be expected to walk on the court smelling of jazz cigarettes. And in the days since Williams’ aside, the jokes flew.
Deadspin went with Donyell Marshall, because his 2002-03 career year and decade and a half’s worth of hard-working and productive play were completely mitigated in their editors’ eyes because he blew his hair out into an afro a few times (something that takes quite a bit of time to do and doesn’t really lend itself to sparking up before a game … but Deadspin has never really shopped in that hair product aisle before).
K.C. Johnson put the pot jokes aside and pointed out what should have come to mind right away and the Times’ editors should have caught to at least add as an aside – the NBA has regularly tested for marijuana in-season since the 1999 Collective Bargaining Agreement. I don’t doubt for a second that NBA players are toking up all the time in the offseason, and don’t particularly mind that they do, but NBA players are routinely met with that guy with the cup on game nights during the season and sometimes late to the pregame huddle as a result.
All six players reached for comment denied they used marijuana and emphasized it wasn't a widespread problem on the team. Williams' comments were made in a comprehensive article detailing his physical and emotional recovery from the June 2003 motorcycle accident that ended his Bulls career after one season.
The New York Times story also claimed that teammates never visited Williams during his month-plus stay in intensive care at a Chicago hospital. Three ex-teammates vehemently disputed that, saying Williams and his family repeatedly denied attempts to visit.
A message left on Williams' cellphone wasn't returned. Co-host Marc Silverman from WMVP-AM 1000's "Waddle and Silvy" show told listeners that Williams canceled an appearance because he "didn't want to elaborate" on his allegations.
ESPNNewYork.com reported that Williams issued this statement Monday: "I gave an honest account of my struggles and observations during a specific time in my life; that was one small element. It was a long time ago and I am not looking to make it a bigger issue."
"My thing is, why say these things now?" said Donyell Marshall, one of the team leaders from 2002-03. "You don't need to be making people assume. You're messing up situations for other people. Now, instead of Fred (Hoiberg, coach of Iowa State) focusing on the NCAA tournament or whatever, he's got to deal with that (crap)."
I honestly don’t think that’s a problem for Fred Hoiberg, or anyone else as they set to their respective jobs this week. Although I understand Marshall’s annoyance.
The 2002-03 Bulls were a strange team. Williams was looked upon as the savior immediately after he was taken second overall in that year’s draft, famously taking the largest locker in the team’s arena – one that had sat empty since Michael Jordan’s last game with the Bulls in June of 1998. Unlike Jordan, though, Jay had some alpha dog competition.
For years Jalen Rose had been looking to dominate the ball, and he was thwarted in both his time at Michigan, out of position in the pros with Denver, and with a loaded Indiana Pacers squad from 1996 to 2002. Bulls GM Jerry Krause cashed in two eventual All-Star assets in Brad Miller and Ron Artest to acquire Rose, in his prime, asking him to start hitting daggers and accelerate the team’s rebuilding process. Jalen was entering 2002-03 ready to shoot.
Jamal Crawford, drafted as a project by Krause in 2000, was ready to recover. He had torn his ACL in a workout during the 2001 offseason and played surprisingly well in his short stints upon return in 2001-02. With the drafting of Williams Crawford was essentially relegated to shooting guard duties – a sensible decision in 2013 but one Jamal wasn’t entirely pleased with in 2002.
Throughout the year, and through Williams’ growing pains and slow growth, Crawford continually outplayed the rookie (even developing solid chemistry on pick and rolls with Eddy Curry), but kept quiet and professional. Rose? Eh, maybe not so much. For whatever reason, Williams wasn’t as well-liked in the Chicago locker room as he was by the face-painters in Durham.
So for him to go narc a decade later? It probably doesn’t sit well – especially when you recall that the Bulls saw Williams through his recovery even after he had gone against the terms of his contract with the motorcycle accident, and given the player a $3 million buyout that they absolutely did not have to.
The 2002-03 Chicago Bulls were one of the strangest NBA teams I’ve ever observed. Eddy Curry and Eddie Robinson played as if they were smoking weed while on the court, and not just before games. Rick Brunson later went on to engage in teammate battles with Chris “Who?” Jeffries. Marcus Fizer’s aggressive play remains hard to describe a decade later. Lonny Baxter was eventually arrested for shooting guns outside the White House, this was the year we finally discovered that Jalen Rose was not an All-Star in waiting, and most famously Corie Blount was caught with an entire country’s worth of marijuana in his possession.
This is a long way of saying that this is a team ripe for picking as one that could be accused of smoking pot before games.
They tested for that stuff, though. And, perhaps most importantly … why, Jay?
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