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Jayson Williams: Turning setbacks into comebacks

Jayson Williams has had hundreds of teammates throughout his life, but vulnerability is what sets his teammates apart.


Williams, a former NBA player for the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets, became vulnerable at a young age after losing two sisters to AIDS and one to domestic violence. Growing up in the rural south as a mixed-race child made it difficult for Williams to make friends and confide in others.


As an athlete, Williams learned to shun vulnerability and suppress any past emotional baggage to focus on winning.


“Vulnerability, the stigma is… you got to be tough… nothing affects you, which is so untrue,” Williams said. “If you’re that great, you don’t get traded. But you have to keep changing locker rooms when you become vulnerable, when you get figured out, when [players] don’t respect you [any]more.”


During his career, Williams did not care about what people thought of him as long as he was recognized as a good player. This mindset continued until the end of Williams’ career in 1999 when he broke his right leg and had to have surgery. Williams officially retired in June of 2000.


Williams said he began to follow a path of mistakes and regrets that has led him to where he is today.


Williams accidentally shot and killed Costas Christofi, his limo driver, on Feb. 14, 2002. According to documents provided by the New Jersey Courts public access portal, he was charged with reckless manslaughter on Feb. 22, and aggravated manslaughter on May 1 of that year. In April 2004, more serious charges against Williams were dropped, but the jury was deadlocked on a charge of reckless manslaughter. After many years and delays, Williams pleaded guilty to aggravated assault on Jan. 11, 2010, and was sentenced to 18 months to five years in prison on Feb. 23, 2010.


Former Senior Judge Edward M. Coleman had wise words for WIlliams during his sentencing.


“Obviously, alcohol and drugs don’t mix. That’s gotten you where you are today,” Coleman said. “But where you go from today, how you handle the rest of your life, it’s entirely in your hands and you’re going to choose your own path.”


Williams was released from custody on April 13, 2012. Now, he is embracing vulnerability as a way to get his life back.


“With me, I'm like, look, I’m vulnerable from the start. This is what I do. This is what I am. This is what I'm all about,” Williams said. “I've made some mistakes. I'm sorry for those mistakes. I take responsibility and accountability, and let’s move on.”


Williams came to South Florida to seek help for his struggles with addiction in December of 2015. He permanently relocated in 2016, and one year later, Williams founded Rebound Institute, a rehabilitation center that helps clients, called teammates, address their problems and rediscover themselves.


“It’s only a few things that get you better. And it’s structure, it’s accountability, and the biggest one is compassion and love...” Williams said. “ Blood makes you related. But loyalty and accountability makes this a rebound family.”


Besides vulnerability, what shapes Rebound is its adventure therapy method, in which teammates take part in many activities they would ordinarily never consider, such as skydiving, horseback riding and scuba diving.


“If you can trust us to jump out [of] an airplane, that’s a connection, a trust, a loyalty, that you’re going to keep for the rest of your life, especially when you land safely,” Williams said.


Williams believes the best way to go about life is by looking forward. Learning from the past is a lesson, but staying in the past is a distraction from the future.


“I think the biggest thing I do is try to keep moving forward… ,” Williams said. “I can be a warning or an example to others, somebody once told me. I think I’m both. I'm a warning [for] what happens and an example for what you can make out of a bad situation.”


By Rachida Harper

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