Wow, that was a short off-season. Seems like only yesterday Deron Williams was on the news, in the papers, on the radio. But wait. It was only yesterday.
It's been that kind of summer. You saw him in the Olympics, but it's been far more than that. This was the year of all D-Will, all the time. Get used to it. Training camp is 13 days away; then he'll really be in the news.
Who knew being an NBA player was a full-time job?
If you're wondering what this is all about, it's that Williams is, as the phrase goes, "taking ownership." Technically, Larry H. Miller owns the Jazz, but it's Williams who has become their flag-bearer. Not Carlos Boozer, an All-Star and fellow Redeem Teamer who wilted in the playoffs. Not Andrei Kirilenko, whose vagaries have been chronicled ad nauseam.
Williams is everywhere like Paris Hilton, except with talent.
To see a Jazz player appearing so regularly in the off-season is strange. John Don't-Bother-Me Stockton didn't show up until the first day of training camp. It was never clear whether he was just taking his summers off or living in Uzbekistan. Karl Malone surfaced occasionally in the off-season, but usually to gripe about his contract.
This year Williams has been as ubiquitous as Starbucks. True, he played for Team USA, which certainly made him high profile. But he also appeared at the Carmen B. Pingree Center for Children with Autism last week to play with the kids. Really play. Because he has an extended family member who is autistic, it was something he volunteered.
"I was briefing him beforehand, telling him, 'Deron, some of these kids may not notice what that gold medal is, or what it stands for. Some of them might not understand what the Jazz are,'" said Williams' marketing director, Steve Wright. "He said, 'Steve, I got it. I know. If I can touch them for even five minutes, I'm there.'"
Proceeds from his celebrity golf tournament next week will go to the school.
Williams also appeared at Sam's Club this summer, as a guest, not for walking-around cash (he doesn't need that with a new $70 million contract), but because they asked him. He wanted to meet the people and he did roughly 2,000 of 'em. Not once did he roll his eyes.
"He said, 'We need to do more of this,'" said Wright.
And they have. Last weekend, Williams was in Champaign, Ill., for the Fighting Illini alumni game. Williams established a scholarship foundation, and the fundraiser attracted former players such as Dee Brown, Roger Powell, Kendall Gill and Nick Anderson, as well as Phoenix Suns' chairman Jerry Colangelo, Illinois coach Bruce Weber and former coach Lou Henson. A regular Memory Lane moment.
His reason for the foundation? Yup. He wanted to give back.
During his trip to China, he visited a hospital in Shanghai.
It's not like there was a lot of press there to cover his good deeds.
During the preseason, he will be granting a Make-a-Wish request to someone.
Then there's the rest. Williams was on "Oprah" with his Olympic teammates 1 1/2 weeks ago. This month he has also been on Fox Sports' "Best Damn Sports Show, Period" and "Jim Rome is Burning."
There have been local radio and newspaper showings by Williams this summer, too.
When Williams first appeared in Utah, he was confident but guarded. Charles Barkley he wasn't. But as time passed, he became increasingly willing to show his humor. Sometimes it's simply a glint in his eye or a short one-liner. For those he trusts, he's engaging and cooperative, the proverbial good guy. Which raises the obvious question: What's in it for him? Is this some kind of radical publicity blitz?
Probably not, since he had already signed his contract extension before most of this happened.
"We didn't just sit down and say, 'Deron, we've got to come up with a major media crash course,' like we're promoting a movie," said Wright. "It's not like that. People were calling and saying, 'Can you go here?' And a lot of it, if it fit into his schedule, we did."
Wright says Williams also did it because he understands he's the Jazz's guy. His team, his town, his responsibility. Which is quite unusual. The team has three players who have been All-Stars (Boozer, Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur), yet the most popular, and the unchallenged leader, is Williams.
Unlike other players, Williams lives in Salt Lake in the off-season. He likes the change of seasons, his neighborhood, the schools. Hence, you might see him at the convenience store, the movies, the library ...
Who knows, maybe he'll even show up at your birthday party.
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