This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
This is the first of a three-part series on Jazz point guard Deron Williams - from his childhood days as a wrestler, to nearly winning an NCAA championship at Illinois, to becoming the floor general of the Utah Jazz.
Deron Williams knows what's coming his way, and the thought of it riveted a smile onto his face the other day. The Jazz are about to give him a max-money extension that will pay him somewhere between $50 million and $90 million, depending on whether he signs for three years at the short end or five at the long.
It's up to him.
He's got the power here, and everybody knows it.
Not bad for a young basketball player who too often in the past had little power and, in his mind, even less respect. He had been left off junior summer club teams and wasn't considered the best player on his high school varsity. After having proved he could play, he wanted to go to North Carolina, but the Tar Heels told him he could come only if Raymond Felton didn't. When he turned to Georgia Tech, coaches there blew him off for Jarrett Jack.
Following his freshman year at Illinois, when he scored just six points a game and fans were clamoring for him to be thrown into the junk heap, he nearly transferred to Texas, but T.J. Ford was there. When he finally came to the Jazz, via a very respectful No. 3 pick, he was benched by Jerry Sloan in favor of a couple of scrub point guards, a move that caused Williams to, as he puts it, "hate" the coach. Later, he was left off the NBA All-Star team, and went on to play some of the best ball of his life.
Yeah, it's great to be Deron Michael Williams, and everybody knows that now, too.
Ring is the thing
He's really good, and about to be really rich, regardless of the course he takes.
Williams can choose the briefer route, and broaden his options thereafter with other clubs. And freak out Jazz fans everywhere. Or he can select the extended one in Utah and enjoy the security that comes with the sure money. Or he could split the difference in time and pay.
He says the contract likely will be agreed upon over the next few weeks, after he returns from a family vacation on the Mayan Riviera and before he heads for Beijing with Team USA.
"I haven't decided yet what I'm going to do," he says. "I like it here, but, as a player, you want to see the direction the franchise is going."
Translation: Keep improving this team to my satisfaction and I'm your guy. Cheap out and I'm vapor.
"If we're on the verge of winning a championship," says Williams, "I have no problem staying here my whole career."
If that's as much a threat as it is a promise, it speaks well of the 24-year-old point guard, heading now into his fourth year. The Jazz euphemistically call his stance "taking ownership," and it is, in fact, that and more. The glad news is, Williams is happy to be a wealthy man and all, but his designs reach beyond just having more money than King Farouk. He wants to win like Michael Jordan.
"I grew up with no money," Williams says. "I love having it, taking care of my family. But I'm a competitive person. In college, I used to go play ball at 3:30 in the morning with Dee [Brown] and Luther [Head]. You couldn't keep us away from the court. We'd go to the gym at midnight or 1 a.m. or anytime, and you didn't want to lose. If you did, you'd be mad the rest of the night.
"I want to win. I'll never lose that. If I get a max deal, I want to earn it. I don't want anyone to be able to say, 'He's stealing money.' "
Williams has seen that drill before - from a personal vantage point that still haunts him.
It goes back to his childhood, when he grew up in his mother's household in West Virginia and Texas. Denise Smith, a former college athlete, raised him by herself, working two jobs: one as a computer programmer and another at Taco Bell. Williams' father, Byron, bailed on the whole parenting endeavor.
"My dad just disappeared," Williams says. "I never knew him. I don't consider him my dad. I never thought about him. I never cared."
When Williams was 8, there was a fleeting, though forgettable, encounter between Denise, himself and his biological father, when the elder Williams moved back into the family home for about a month. "He stole all my mom's money out of her bank account," Williams says. "She didn't have a lot. It was something like $300 or $400 dollars. But he took it."
And vanished, again.
Williams wants to neither steal anything, nor vanish.
He says he doesn't care about his non-father, but something either in his own genetics or his fatherless environment instilled in him that uncommon competitive drive. In those early years, and later, too, he saw challenges around every bend, and the aforementioned disrespect in every evaluation.
Part of that was stoked in a world rarely crossed into by multi-sport basketball players. Williams was a junior state champion wrestler in Texas when he was 8 and 12. Anyone who has been around wrestlers is familiar with the alpha-dog phenomenon developed in many of them. It is an arena in which domination is the understood language of the mat. Williams spoke it well.
"I loved wrestling," he says. "I was quick and I was strong. Wrestling helped my competitiveness. It helped me to survive."
Under his mom's tutelage, basketball took over in subsequent years, just in time to bump Williams away from trouble when he was in middle school, when, he says, "I started hanging out with the wrong people." He might have played football, except that high school football in Texas was "too hot."
"I wish I had played football," he says. "I would have played safety because I like hitting people."
Instead, Williams was disrespected only on the court.
He thought he should have made the varsity at The Colony High School in The Colony, Texas, as a ninth-grader. He didn't. "My coach used to try to get me mad," Williams says, "because I play better when I'm mad."
At times, throughout his prep career, unselfishness was mistaken for lesser talent.
"My high school coach, Tommy Thomas, was an inspiration," Williams says. "We had a structured system. It taught me how to play. When I got to college, those guys didn't even know how to play."
Alongside Williams, the Illinois Illini would learn.
Part 2: Williams nearly wins an NCAA title and, after coming to the Jazz, endures a frustrating rookie season.