For a while, there, Jayson Williams was Mr. Net. He eschewed larger free agent offers to stay with the team in 1995, developing into one of the league's better rebounders -- a more verbose version of Dennis Rodman with everyman appeal. Following the NBA's lockout in 1998, Williams even donated thousands of dollars to displaced staffers at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.; where the Nets played back then. Soon after, a broken leg and broken post-NBA lifestyle resulted in a string of arrests that led to 18 months spent on Rikers Island, a facility he was released from earlier this month.
The Nets did not contact Williams upon his release from jail. And, as you'd expect, Williams was not invited to the ceremony intended to celebrate the team's final game in New Jersey on Monday night. Through a spokesman, though, Jayson appears to be taking the team's denouement in stride. From the New York Daily News:
"I don't think there is a person who loves the Nets as much as I do — from our fans, all the employees in the arenas, the front office personnel and the owners," Williams said through his longtime friend and manager, Akhtar Farzaie. "I will always be loyal to our fans and the Nets."
Williams has served his time. He spent a year and a half in prison following the manslaughter charges that were levied against him following the accidental shooting of a limousine driver on his property in 2002, and a DWI charge added eight months to that sentence, which ended on April 3. After submitting to his sentence, it's disturbing to try and decipher why the Nets declined to bring a player who may have been the most popular Net in team history back for one last round of applause.
It's not hard to understand, though.
Williams' cases, with several mistrials heaped upon a DWI charge that wasn't widely publicized, weren't exactly the stuff of O.J. Simpson-esque scrutiny. That doesn't indicate a lack of besmirched record when you look at Williams' time with the franchise, and it's a fair assumption that any association Jayson would have with the team on Monday night would turn into something that had more to do with Jayson Williams than it would be the soon to be former New Jersey Nets. Even if he didn't say a word, the night would be Jayson's; mainly because the show of applause (or, possibly, mixed reaction) would be a stamping of sorts on his post-NBA image.
The Nets don't need that. They've never been overwhelmingly embraced in New Jersey, following the team's move from Long Island in 1976-77, and Monday night's ceremony is going to remind fans of the eventual move to Brooklyn more than it will evoke memories of … the 2002 NBA Finals? The 2003 NBA Finals? With Jason Kidd playing in Dallas, still? There's not a lot to reflect upon, even given the team's 35-year run in New Jersey.
Perhaps the Williams tonic is exactly what the Nets need, though. It's entirely possible that making Monday night all about Jayson Williams — whatever the reaction — is the sort of thing to help shift the focus. Yes, the players that have been asked to participate in the ceremony (according to the NYDN, these include Derrick Coleman, Kenny Anderson, Mike O'Koren, Darwin Cook, Chris Morris, Albert King, Kendall Gill, Kerry Kittles, Otis Birdson, and Michael Ray Richardson; half of which enjoyed spotted careers with the team) certainly deserve their due, but you probably won't see many raised goosebumps on Monday night.
This is where Williams, who was easily more beloved during his time as a Net than any of the players (and this is with no disrespect intended) listed above, could have helped. And, given another round of applause 13 years removed from the broken leg that ended his NBA career, the participation could have served as a turning point for Williams.
We can't criticize the Nets; because Jayson Williams is less than a month removed from two prison terms following an accidental killing he confessed to, and a DWI charge. It is completely understandable why they passed on including him, and the team is certainly under no obligation to shift focus on a night like this.
We just wonder if this is a lost opportunity. Another in a long line for both the New Jersey Nets, and Jayson Williams.