Bulls working on contract settlement

Updated: December 21, 2003, 12:24 AM ET
Associated Press

CHICAGO -- Jay Williams sat in a chair at the edge of the Chicago Bulls practice court, smiling at the sounds that have carried him through these last six months.

Every bounce of a ball, every screech of a sneaker on hardwood echoes through his head like a siren's call, pushing him to chase his dream. He still can't walk without crutches, and it will likely be summer before he can run again.

But someday soon, Williams promises he'll be back on the court.

"I'm going to come back and play," he said Saturday after watching a Bulls practice for the first time since the devastating motorcycle accident that jeopardized his career.

"That's the motivation, where you want to get back to. This is what I've done my whole life. That's what I look forward to doing again."

Williams is in Chicago this weekend for the first time since being released from the hospital July 2. He visited with his teammates after Saturday morning's shootaround, exchanging a hug with fellow guard and one-time rival Jamal Crawford and checking to see if there was anything left in his old locker.

He was at the Bulls game against Cleveland later Saturday, sitting behind Tyson Chandler in the first row of seats behind Chicago's bench. Williams leaned over and shook hands with his teammates before the game, smiling widely. He'll return Sunday to North Carolina, where he'll continue his rehab at Duke. He hopes to return to Chicago in January for more physical therapy.

"It'll be good to hear the cheers of the Chicago fans again," he said. "But, hopefully, I can hear the cheers after I make a basket on the court sometime soon."

Williams, the No. 2 pick in the 2002 draft, had a promising career ahead of him when he got on his new motorcycle to go to dinner June 19. He'd just put the powerful street bike in second gear when it got away from him and slammed into a utility pole.

He was thrown onto a grassy curb, face down from the waist up, his left leg tilting grotesquely upward. He'd severed a main nerve in his leg, fractured his pelvis and tore three of the four main ligaments in his left knee.

He spent the next two weeks at a Chicago hospital before being transferred to Duke University Medical Center.

"He's made great progress," said Bob Bruzga, a physical therapist at Duke who accompanied Williams to Chicago. "With the injuries he's had and where he is right now, he's done remarkably well."

But will he ever play in the NBA again?

Though Williams is targeting a return for the 2004-05 season, the Bulls are operating as if he won't. They drafted another point guard, Kirk Hinrich, and are working with Williams' agent, Bill Duffy, on a settlement to buy out the rest of his contract that pays him $7.7 million through next season.

Though the Bulls could have terminated Williams' deal, riding a motorcycle violates the standard NBA contract, he's currently on injured reserve.

"It's way too soon to tell right now," Bruzga said when asked if Williams will play again. "We probably won't know anything more until this summer or so, once he's off the crutches and we get him running again.

"However, I will tell you he is shooting baskets right now with us, and his shot is as good as ever."

Williams visited Dr. James Andrews on Friday, and said the sports medicine specialist told him his knee is stable and he can play again. All that stands in his way is work and time.

Williams does physical therapy for four to five hours a day, five or six days a week. He rides a stationary bike, works out in a pool and does weight training and exercises to improve his balance and endurance.

It's exhausting and, for the foreseeable future, endless. But Williams isn't complaining.

"This has been a life-changing event for me," he said. "It not only makes you realize how important some things are that you thought weren't important, but there's a lot of things I took for granted in life.

"It's a different world I'm in now," he added. "I know I have to keep working hard to get back to my dreams, and I'm going to keep working hard for it."

Once overwhelmed by thoughts of the accident, Williams' mind is now focused solely on his future. Even driving by the site of the accident this weekend wasn't as emotionally charged as it once would have been.

"All that stuff is kind of past and gone now," he said. "You can't hold onto the past because then you can never live in the present."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press