Jerome Williams has been a Raptor fan-favorite for quite some time. From his tireless work as a key member of the 2001 playoff team that took an Allen Iverson-led 76ers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semi-Final, to his equally tireless work off the court for children, Williams has been a class act in his adopted home. After his retirement from the NBA in 2005, the Junk Yard Dog has begun a new life centered on charity work and a love of helping others. Raptors HQ's Ray Bala recently caught up with JYD to find out exactly what he has been up to since he retired and what he thought about his time in Toronto.
RaptorsHQ: I'm just gonna say come out and say it: I'm a huge Georgetown Hoyas fan and I've been following you since your days there in college. I remember you guys, (Allen) Iverson, Othella (Harrington), Don Reid, you all came down to play Memphis State here in Toronto and I missed the game. I had to get a report handed in and I missed my one chance to see all you guys! I heard the game was crazy though.
Jerome Williams: Wow that game was crazy! (Laughing) Coach Thompson got us an extra .2 seconds on the clock and it goes down in Toronto history as the last game to shut down Maple Leaf Gardens. Georgetown with the victory!
HQ: For some of our younger readers, can you tell us who gave you the nickname JYD?
JYD: When I was with the Pistons, former bad boy Rick Mahorn gave me that name and it's stuck with me.
HQ: Now why did he give you that nickname?
JYD: Just from my hustle and hard work. He said I was going to be his rookie. When I first got to the Pistons he said I had to beat him in there every day. And Rick was always there first so I would usually be there about three hours before practice just to beat Rick. At the same time, it was my work ethic. My work ethic was never questioned by administration, by the players, by anybody. When he named me the JYD because of my work, everybody accepted it because a) Rick Mahorn works hard and he would never give someone a work hard name if it wasn't true. And b) he was there to stamp it because he's the one who told me to beat him in there every day and that was just a part of the rookie's transition. You did everything that a veteran told you to do, bring donuts, coffee, whatever. SO...that's how I got my nickname. After he left, I could have let it go but by that time I had people barking for me, I had a dog pound, it was like where's this going to go? I can't do anything with this. JYD, that's who I am.
HQ: That nickname alone is now synonymous with not only hard work on the court, but community service and helping the people. It's taken its own personality and identity.
HQ: Now from the reports I've read, after your trade from Detroit, you jumped into your truck and drove up to Toronto. How excited were you to come here?
JYD: I was really excited to come to Toronto. That was my first trade so you have those hurtful feelings of being traded but I've been in the league for four, four and half years, so when it happens you're in a surreal moment. You have mixed emotions and you ask a bunch of questions like, "where am I going," "what do I do with all my friends here (in Detroit)," "how does it all work?" SO I immediately channeled all my energy into a city that was excited to have the Junkyard Dog. I thought about that and I said to myself "this is a great opportunity for me." This team is on the rise, I had been and played in Toronto when I was in college and I loved it so I have college roots there. Man, I shut down Maple leaf gardens with Allen Iverson! So I had a different level of respect for the city and the people and the passion. I was excited so that excitement was real so of course that's why that story lives ‘cause it's a true story. And then to have to battle through a snow storm, now that was unexpected cause it wasn't snowing when I left. Got out there on that Snow Belt it got serious but I made it there.
HQ: What do you think made Toronto special when you finally got here?
JYD: That was a three and half, four hour drive so what made it special when I got there was the fans. The fans made it special. They were calling into the radio, I was listening to the radio, they were saying how excited they were to have a player of my caliber there (on the team) and I just felt like "Dang, this feels like home and I haven't even done anything yet." I think the connection with the fans was the first thing that set Toronto apart (from other cities) because usually you get (to a new city) and the fans have to get to know you. It seemed they knew me all that time, like they knew me better than some of the players on the team so I took that and ran with it.
HQ: As you mentioned, most players seem to need some time for fans to warm up to them. Why do you think the fans jumped at the JYD almost immediately when you arrived in Toronto?
JYD: I think it's because Toronto fans are hockey fans by nature. And in the game of hockey you're only going to be on the ice if you're working hard. It's like a struggle throughout the whole game with a lot of contact, you have a lot of emotion and a low score. If you're brought up in that game and now switching to basketball and you're trying to learn and figure out the game with a higher score and you kinda recognize the players and you have to learn how they work, you're going to gravitate to someone who is putting forth a certain amount of effort that appeals to you. So I think that's what happened to me.
HQ: And I must say that you did work sir. No one out-worked you when you were on the court. Now looking back on your time as a Raptor, who was your favorite teammate?
JYD: Morris Peterson.
HQ: Why Morris Peterson?
JYD: Mo Pete was drafted as a Raptor and he was a good teammate. Mo is an all-around teammate. He was always willing to work hard and next to me he was a fan favorite. He did everything he was asked to do and he never wanted to leave, like me. He was never on the bus talking about "I can't wait to leave Toronto".
HQ: What are your favorite memories as a Raptor both on the court and off the court?
JYD: Wow. On the court I would definitely have say dunking on Dikembe Mutombo in the game that sent us to game seven in Philadelphia (Eastern Conference playoffs).
HQ: Wow. Climbing Mt Mutombo and dunking on him is a big feat! How was that?
JYD: It a fun element of my career in Toronto because I had history with Dikembe with Georgetown, a lot of conversations, and he would take me to dinner. (In Mutombo's voice) "Never Jerome will you dunk on Mt Mutombo." All that mystique about the Georgetown centers and he's probably blocked hundreds of my shots between Georgetown and NBA. Hundreds. So that one time out of a hundred that I actually got ‘em, especially in a game with those kind of stakes! (See the 1:07 mark of this video.) And that was in the fourth quarter and that was an "and one." And you know how you get that "Well it really wasn't a dunk on me" talk. I got through all that. It was an "and one" and it was replayed over and over. On that play, we were down and we were never down again in that game after and we won.
HQ: That must be something you bring up in the alumni game often.
JYD: Naw, I don't bring it up too much but I bring it up every now and again but it just depends how much trash he starts talking. I got you, I got Alonzo but I never got Patrick. He's the only safe one.
HQ: So how about your favorite memory off the court?
JYD: Aw man, there are so memories off the court. I would definitely say the visit to Sick Kids Hospital.
HQ: Why is that?
JYD: You know, those kids always showed the most heart for me because they were in situations where they were sick, in the hospital, and didn't know when they were going to get out. And when we would visit them in the hospital, I'd show up there and their faces would light up. It was like they were dreaming to meet me and I would go and I would feel like, man, whatever I'm doing right now to help them feel special it was like it was God's greatest gift because that gave some of the kids what they needed to get through their ailments. And that's just a powerful thing to do, to help somebody so I'll never forget those moments. Off the court that's probably the pinnacle, and there's been a lot. Helping or assisting in any way is a serious gift from God.
HQ: Since you've left the Raptors as a player, are you currently still with the team?
JYD: I'm not currently with the team but I still do things with the team though because I'm an NBA community ambassador. So I still do work for the league like in player development in Las Vegas in the summer which keeps me close to the game. It keeps me fresh, it keeps me enjoying what I've loved doing for so many years.
HQ: Working with the players, do you miss the game? Playing every night?
JYD: (With a laugh) I don't miss playing every night but I miss playing like once a week! If I could do it like once a week I'd still be playing. Look I could maybe sign a 10 day with the Raptors. Tell Bryan Colangelo I'm good for a week! (with a laugh) Then I got to lay in a bucket of ice for a month!
HQ: Not playing for that long, how are your skills? Was there a decline in any area basketball wise?
JYD: You got to remember that most of the guys who stop playing, it's not by choice. If you take a poll, 95% of the guys are stopping because they have to stop. They can no longer do it, their bodies are done, they can't make a team, can't make the cut, I mean it's hard work to stay in the NBA for any length of time. But when you step away like I did, just by choice, it's a whole different ball game. I'm still playing, I'm still out here. I dunked on a couple of cats out here in LA. I still play, that's the beauty of it. I didn't have any major injuries that stopped me from playing. So where most guys got to stop, then after they stop it's a huge fall-off because they can't play even if they wanted to. But whereas I stopped, I wanted to spend time with my family, pursue other goals, maybe get into other things in the realm of basketball and the NBA and organizations, I had a different walk.
HQ: Now since you walked in your own terms relatively young, do you have any regrets leaving so early?
JYD: The only regret is never putting on that Raptor uniform again. IF I had one thing that I would have loved to do it would be to put on that number 13 one last time just for my fans. Because a lot of people don't really understand the game, I mean the organizational side. I was put in a trade that basically the Raptors were forced to do. They couldn't not do that trade. I didn't want to leave, they didn't want me to leave, but because of their situation with Antonio Davis, they didn't have a choice.
Stay tuned for part II tomorrow and check out JYD's site, the "JYD project"...