Williams entering sports marketing world

Jul. 29, 2013 @ 12:18 PM

An all-American on the basketball court who achieved his Duke degree in three years, Jay Williams relishes taking on, and conquering, challenges.

When the injury that ended his NBA career sent his life in a spiral, Williams overcame depression and found another competitive outlet in the sports business world and, later as an ESPN basketball analyst

This month, in the midst of deciding where his television career will continue, he’s taking on yet another venture with ties back in the Triangle.

Williams has agreed to become managing partner for the Leverage Agency, a sports, entertainment and media marketing company.

Leverage was founded by Ben Sturner, a 1995 Chapel Hill High School graduate who helped the Tigers 1993 state tennis championship before he continued his tennis career at Boston University.

Sturner’s parents worked at Duke, which of course is where Williams sharpened his athletic skills on the court and his business skills off it.

Williams said being 31 years old with no wife and no kids yet makes this a good time to take on this venture with Sturner.

“We kept waiting for the right time,” Williams said. “He’s a legit character. I trust him. To do something with him on a bigger level, considering the network I have and the network he has, it’s really the perfect time for us to try to take the sports world by storm.”

Williams plans to continue to work in television along with his new role with Leverage. His ESPN contract is up and, with CBS Sports Network already going strong and the new Fox Sports 1 network hitting the air next month, Williams has options.

At the same time, working for a sports marketing company with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Beijing and Miami excites him. Since Sturner founded the company in New York in 2005, Leverage has sold more than $100 million in sponsorships.

“I’ve known Jay for a long time, and have always respected his leadership skills, positive outlook, and strong business acumen,” Sturner said. “We also share the same entrepreneurial spirit and passion for taking the company to a new level.”

Williams turned to the business world after the injuries he suffered in a 2003 motorcycle accident brought an early end to his NBA career. After he was a national player of the year with Duke and part of the Blue Devils 2001 NCAA championship team, the Chicago Bulls had made him the No.2 overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft.

He attempted comebacks with the New Jersey Nets and in the NBA Developmental League in 2006.

Knowing that riding the motorcycle ended his playing career took a mental toll on Williams, who said he was so distraught attempted suicide.

His mother, Althea Williams, played a major role in helping him improve his mental outlook. Jay Williams owns a home in Durham where Althea lives.

Even though his new job with Leverage will frequently keep him in Los Angeles and New York, he’ll keep his Durham ties.

“I will always keep my home in Durham,” Williams said. “My mom stays there. I love that place. I will go back and forth.”

Williams and Sturner both said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s influence will make Williams a solid businessman in his role with Leverage.

“One of the benefits of going to Duke is Coach K teaches you about the bigger game – the game of life,” Williams said. “He was really big on connecting dots. He’s able to adapt his conversation to every individual.”

While at Duke, Williams sent letters to executives at top companies to forge relationships. That groundwork gives him contacts in this new venture, which Sturner and Williams stress is sports marketing, not contract negotiations.

Williams explored the sports agent business but admits he was “turned off” by that aspect of the business.

“As far as recruiting kids out of college, that’s not the bigger picture for us at all,” Williams said.

Williams is also writing an autobiography about his experiences, both on and off the court. He may only be 31, but he’s been through plenty of ups and downs.

He and Sturner are both confident their venture together will be successful.

“Every single day he wakes up it’s going to be a good day,” Sturner said. “We both feel that way. We take advantage of every minute of the day. We are working. We don’t stop. I think that’s what Jay’s determination is. The amazing lessons learned from Coach K that apply to business.

“It’s about work ethic and the work ethic he did on the court and the work ethic to come back from adversity to be a better businessman. It’s about taking on something and becoming the best you can be.”