September 26, 2008 was a day that really caught me by surprise. Jason Williams, newly acquired by the Los Angeles Clippers, retired.
This probably may not seem much, but it is. It's something like what Magic fans would have felt when he did the same. Devastated.
A 10 year career. Over. Just like that.
Not too many people might have heard of Jason Williams. Or even cared that he retired so suddenly. But to me, and I'm sure a lot other J-Will fans around the globe, it mattered, a lot.
Basketball is a game of style. Billy Hoyle said something about looking good first and winning second, and that's just what Jason Williams was all about.
Style. Something that makes the ordinary pass look clumsy. Something that would make even the most uptight guy to go, "Damn.. That was good."
Jason Williams had style, and lots of it. And that's exactly what makes him stand out from the rest of the NBA.. Exactly why I'm a fan.
I first heard of J-Will when I was 13. I had just seen this Nike Ad of his and I was really intrigued by this scrawny kid who was making NBA biggies look foolish. His dribbling and ball control was like nobody I'd ever seen. And his imagination.. was wild. I became a fan.
Jason Williams, when he was at Sacramento (drafted 7th in 1998), was one of the greatest entertainers in the history of the game. He would go out to the court every night just to show the world what he could do with a basketball. A veritable artist with the court as his canvas. I mean, seriously, who do you think could pull this off? Or this?
His ballhandling ability was unreal and his shooting form was flawless. One more than one occasion, he would take the deepest 3s from way beyong the arc, and make the most dazzling moves just to show he could. And only he could. Check out these mixes.
J-Will was the player in the NBA for the love of the game. Not for the money, or even winning. He just liked to play. Truly Loyal to the Game.
But then of course.. The fairtytale dissolved over time. 2 trades to Memphis and then Miami saw a changed J-Will. A J-Will under chains. A J-Will who sold his soul to stay in the NBA. The wild kid had died, stifled in a world of men. A new J-Will had emerged, one who was broken, a shadow of his Sacramento self. Content with throwing lobs to a rising star Dwyane Wade and playing fiddle to everyone else on the team. A J-Will who had given up on himself. J-Will fans had little to truly celebrate when Miami won the championship in 2006.
What we wanted from J-Will was not a championship.. After all, some or the other team wins it every year. What we wanted from J-Will was the creativity, the pure art form that basketball really is. Bringing the playground to the national level.
Following the championship were 2 lacklustre seasons. The 07-08 season particularly, saw the destruction of the HEAT franchise. J-Will fans around the world waited, blaming the era on head coach Pat Riley. Everyone wanted the comeback of J-Will. And it looked like it was happening when he got traded (for the last time) to the Clippers. But then J-Will retired. I guess he probably thought it wasn't worth being in a cage anymore. He probably had had enough. Enough of having his imagination, his spirit chained.
J-Will's career towards the end could hardly be compared to the beginning. An example of a young spirit, broken over time till he finally quit. An enigma.
J-Will, at some level, represented a spirit of freedom. A free spirit, an artist in a world of conformists. He represented the fight against uniformity, against the ordinary, and even though he was broken by it, he is truly worth remembering.
Finally, thanks, J-Will, for inspiring countless people to start playing the game after watching your amazing moves, out of which I was one.