ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Williams may look together with his tailored suits and insightful commentary, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to ensure things run smoothly. There are stylists and statisticians making sure the hoops savant stays sharp in front of the camera. Behind it, there’s a loving family and a dog. As for keeping up with his crazy work schedule, well, we’ll let Williams explain how he does that in just a bit.
Of course, with the Kevin Durant-produced ESPN+ show The Boardroom that Williams is hosting, things have only gotten busier. With the help of people like Durant, former NBA star Steve Nash and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Williams delves into endorsement deals, the social media world and other topics related to the business of sports.
Below, the former Duke Blue Devils and Chicago Bulls star weighs in on the new streamed program, lists his favorite college basketball venues and previews the 2019 Final Four host city, Minneapolis.
It’s March, the time of year you and your cohorts are all over the place doing hoops shows. When does the packing and traveling get tiring?
Well, I just had a kid, so I think my definition of tiring might be defined a little bit differently now. What’s happening within all sports, especially with where we’re at via content as it relates to ESPN+ and some of the things I’m trying to do on that side, and creating content for other networks, is that now there is this explosion where every platform is going direct to consumer. They need that content.
Before, where it made sense to [think], “How can I become so diversified that I can argue every single sport, whether that be football, tennis, soccer,” I think we are moving away from that, especially with the tonality of our country, where we’re at as far as debating and how we handle discourse.
I would much rather be able to provide insight and tell stories about people. So, I’m finding that, within the basketball vertical, “Okay, this is a year-long sport.” It was a year-long sport for an athlete, but media never looked at it that way. Now we’re looking at it and saying, “Why are we not providing that year-long type of content for our sport?”
I guess [basketball season] never really gets that dark because it’s always going now.
Because it never gets dark, it means you’re always on the go. How do you keep the energy up?
Fake it till you make it. I’ve had to learn how to control my animation.
Growing up and meeting people, you always want to work hard to become something. I didn’t know it was going to be in this vein of media, but it always gave me a different perspective on how I wanted to be when people met me. And I would be somewhat frustrated when I would meet people that, maybe, wouldn’t be into the conversation or may just not want to be bothered.
So, when I’m in public, especially going through what I went through with my [2003 motorcycle] accident, I’m never going to not be accessible. I might just have spoken to somebody for 30 minutes about basketball, but it doesn’t mean that I’m going to cut you off because I just had that experience with somebody else. You’re a completely new experience.
Sometimes, being on the road, it really helps me conserve and harness that energy. I brought my dog up with me. I feel like I am rebooting. I’m in my room. I have my John Coltrane on — I love jazz. I’ve got SportsCenter on behind me. I’m reading an article. This is where I get my source from, that time that I can spend with me. And I learned how to value that over the years.
Tell our readers a little bit more about The Boardroom.
I’ve been around business since I’ve been a little boy. I’ve been lucky enough with my NBA money to make some investments in some pretty cool things, whether it be partnering up with Ben Sturner and the Leverage Agency; being involved in an analytics company called Simatree; or creating a production company and working with brands and creating content in house.
So, I’ve been doing all this for a while, probably the past 19 years. It’s just started to catch traction. And then, I got a phone call from one of my really good friends, a guy named Scooter Braun, who was like, “Hey, this guy Rich Kleiman wants your number.” Rich and I met at an All-Star party way back in the day when it was myself, him and, like, Method Man, circa 2002. We’ve always known of each other. We’ve just never gotten to work with one another.
I got on the phone with Rich, and he just started talking about the idea. And it’s cool just to think about the vertical of business, right? Like sports business is always happening. A new stadium is being built. How does that process work? New franchises are being started. How does that work?
You’ve seen little tricklets of that on [the HBO show] Ballers with what they were trying to do. And with this kind of explosion of content, why wouldn’t we create that vertical on sports business, and really dig deep and really tell cool, unique stories that are just different?
Where are a few places that should be on a college basketball fan’s bucket list?
I think, sometimes, being on the coast, you relate more to the coast. But we spend so much time in the middle of our country. I love it because it’s such a different experience. I’m not saying that there’s a lack of passion on the coast; it’s just different for some towns, when that’s all they have.
[The University of Kansas’] Allen Fieldhouse blew me away two years ago. I went to go do Kansas versus Kentucky. It was [Duke University’s] Cameron Indoor Stadium on steroids. It was 23,000 people jumping up and down, going absolutely insane. I remember leaving the gym and [fellow ESPN analyst] Seth Greenberg and I were trying to talk to each other and I could not hear a word he was saying, and we were in the car by ourselves. Our ears were ringing that loud. So, I would say Allen Fieldhouse would definitely be one on the collegiate level.
I’ve always loved [the University of Pennsylvania’s] Palestra. That’s like old-school Philly basketball, you know, a lot of big-time games being played there.
Another one would be — and I have to just because of the history and how they care and my wife is from there — [Indiana University’s] Assembly Hall. Indiana is IU basketball. And as much as I hate to say that because they ended my collegiate career, still being there and seeing that place, it was really cool.
You seem to be everywhere in a week’s span. When are you home and when are you on the road? Play out this week for me.
When you start getting into January and February and March, that’s when the grind becomes especially real, because every Monday I leave the house around 11. I get up to Bristol [Connecticut, ESPN’s home] around 1. I work until 1 in the morning. I might have to drive back down to New York to do Get Up!, which starts at 6 in the morning. That’s over around 9. Then I’ll drive back to do college and NBA basketball again Tuesday night.
Then, Wednesday morning, I’ll probably do Get Up! again. Thursday, I might have off. And Friday, I still might do Get Up! in the morning and then leave for my GameDay location. I’m gone Friday night, then Saturday all day long, from 10 in the morning on, you do GameDay. Then, by the time you get home on Sunday, you’re trying to spend time with your wife and your child and be present and be there — while you’re unpacking the bags and throwing stuff in the laundromat, then getting ready to pack for the next morning to do it again.
We are very basketball heavy during those months. Then, after March is over, you’re kind of like, “Whew, okay, we just got done with the Final Four.” But then you’re on the verge of the [NBA] Playoffs. You’re like, “All right, got the playoffs that are about to kick open.” So, you kind of get back into that gear again until June. That’s when things actually start to slow down a little bit.
During those hectic weeks, how are you handling your diet?
It’s like old school, though, De. It’s like that old saying by Albert Einstein: “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” I think, for me, the routines are the biggest thing, right? I feel like when I have a routine, no matter where I am, it just kind of helps me get into that state of mind.
I joke around with my Rocky Balboa montage training, but it’s really like that. I will be in a different hotel, a different place all the time, and I still like to wake up in the morning. Because of my knee, I can’t do a hardcore workout now, but I’ll do the elliptical for 35 to 40 minutes. I’ll lift some weights. I’ll do some abs.
I’ll come back up. I’ll do my morning reading for like an hour or two. I’ll connect with the wife and my daughter and see her on FaceTime for a little bit. You kind of get into that rhythm with work and reading up on articles and also other projects that I’m working on, dedicating some time to that.
And then, by the time nighttime comes around, it’s almost like you’re getting ready for your own game. You’re like, “All right, it’s time to go into game mode.” Then, you go and you work from 7 until 12:30 or 1 at night. Then, you come home and you still have adrenaline kicking and you have to refocus on what the next day’s going to be.
For the fan thinking about going to Minneapolis for the Final Four, what advice do you have for making the most of the experience?
First off, I would stop by all the [TV show] sets, right? I would go see my guy, Charles Barkley. See him and the TNT guys and talk about sports because they’re damn near hysterical all the time. I would come by our set just to experience it because we have so many guests that come through, getting a chance to see Hall of Fame coaches or an NBA player that we’re interacting with.
I love that aspect of it. I know they do a lot of great concerts, a lot of brand activation is going on around then. Minny is one of my favorite cities. We won the championship there in 2001. Going back there, well, it won’t be during the summer. But during the summer, that place is like God’s country. It is gorgeous — all the lakes, the boating and everything that happens there.
I was there a while back, a couple years ago at Hewing Hotel. I love lodges like that. They have really good local art and photography in the hotel. Their rooftop bar is really cool. A restaurant that one of my boys really likes I think is called The Bachelor Farmer. It’s like this kinda trendy, cool, unique hotel. I went there once. I really enjoyed that.
It’s going to be freezing outside. San Antonio was a little bit different, where we had it last year. There was a lot more stuff to do outside. But I still think the experience, the basketball and those types of things are what make it pretty cool.