One by one, the kids
file by Jerry Williams, each begging a smile or an autograph, or even just
to amaze themselves at how he towers above their diminutive frames, his
tightly woven dreadlocks only adding to the curiosity value.
No-one passes through
the door of this community initiative ignored or with their aspirations
unfulfilled – except perhaps for the star turn himself, who is toiling
in the relative backwater of British basketball in the hope that one day,
he might accept the acclaim which comes from performing back in his native
land on the highest stage the game can offer.
The irony of the
situation does not escape the notice of the London Towers swingman. Yet
his very motivation for excellence can be attributed to escaping his situation.
Growing up in a single-parent home, first in New Jersey, and then in Jacksonville,
sport provided the highway to education and a world outside of Florida.
“My mother told us
if we didn’t get a scholarship, then we couldn’t go to college. We were
comfortable but not wealthy so we worked hard to make it happen,” he recounts.
The other constituent
of the We in this tale is Rashean Mathis. Back home, it is he who is the
true celebrity. A free safety with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, his
multi-million dollar salary – along with its ridiculous list of perks –
dwarfs the impecunious pay which globetrotters like his elder sibling can
pick up in the BBL.
“When we first started
in football I was The Man. And I told him that and he proved me wrong and
now he’s earning millions,” Williams affirms.
He does not begrudge
the disparity in their lifestyles, the riches accrued on the gridiron abolishing
any financial worries for the mother they both adore. At times, the downsides
of fame spill over.
“We do look alike,
even down to the dreadlocks, so I often get stopped in Jacksonville and
get asked for autographs. It’s crazy, he can’t even go to the shops.”
So, on occasion do
the benefits, he smiles. “I have occasionally got a good table in a restaurant
because of it.” Yet one senses that there is a part of Williams which not
only wishes that he could replicate his brother’s success but also believes
he could too.
“Going to his house
and seeing how he lives and what he has and what he can do for our mother
... if she needs something than he can write a cheque. I’d love to emulate
Perhaps he could
have done. At his first university, he was recruited initially to play
both sports. They made him choose between the one at which he shone and
the one he adored. So basketball it was.
“I just left then.
After they told me they wanted me to just play football, I called my mother
and started looking for another college. If I hadn’t quit, I’d be in the
NFL now like my brother. But I just loved basketball. My Mom was good at
it too. She got pregnant with me and couldn’t play any more.
"So what I do, I
do it for her too. She always encouraged us. And it was harder when she
came to my games but she pointed out all my mistakes. I’m embarrassed to
admit she still beat me at one on one even when I was 14.”
Not many folk do
that in the BBL, where the reigning Player of the Year has been a major
factor in the Towers stunning start to the league campaign.
But how about bigger
fields, the NBA even? At age 25, there is still time to ponder an improbable
"“That’s the ultimate
dream for any basketball player whether they have the skills or not. There
are guys I’ve played against, like Kenyon Martin and Steve Francis, who
are in the NBA. They have the skills but I have too. It’s just more about
being in the right place at the right time.”
Right now, Williams'
place is at the Palace.