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New NPR podcast: 'The Limits with Jay Williams'


In another life, Jay Williams was a rising NBA star, drafted second overall by the Chicago Bulls in 2002 after a fantastic college career at Duke. He had a $16 million rookie contract and Michael Jordan's old locker. He was seen as the future of the Chicago Bulls franchise. But then the summer after his rookie year, Jay Williams had a motorcycle accident. It was the beginning of the end of his playing career, but it also began a journey of rebound and reinvention.

And in this new year, I'd like to introduce you to one of our newest colleagues here at NPR, Jay Williams.

Jay, welcome to National Public Radio.

JAY WILLIAMS, BYLINE: A, thanks for having me - a dream come true, and stoked to be part of such a big platform.

MARTÍNEZ: And in the intramural basketball game, you're on my team, by the way. Just...

WILLIAMS: (Laughter) I am like a Phil Jackson on the court. I'm a great coach. I don't know about the scoring component, but I am a gifted passer. So there are some attributes I could bring to the table these days.

MARTÍNEZ: Just feed A Martinez the ball, Jay. We'll be just fine.


MARTÍNEZ: All right. All right. Now, you're the host of a new podcast here at NPR. It's called The Limits. What does that title tell us about what to expect with your podcast?

WILLIAMS: Well, we live in the world of quick hits and quick descriptions. If you think about the time that you have to do an IG post and which can actually, you know, capture the attention of a viewer - even your intro, right? - it's the first question that we asked people when we meet them. Hey, what do you do? And I call that compartment perception. So in our brain, we like to quickly try to compartmentalize who somebody is. You may not get a chance to dig deeper because there's not enough time in a day. But you walk away from a quick snippet with, oh, OK, I think I know who this person is.

And for me, I think there's so many more layers to my story that I haven't made public. This is what this show is all about - pushing yourself to the limits and sometimes what comes along with those limits, right? - imposter syndrome, feeling like you don't belong. You're talking to super successful people who have struggled with that stuff that everyday people do. And to bring that journey together and to build that bridge, that's what The Limits is all about.

MARTÍNEZ: I got to listen to the first episode. You talked to Maverick Carter, who is basically the brains behind the off-court business empire of LeBron James. For the people that know who LeBron James is, this will be interesting because Maverick Carter is as important to LeBron James as anybody else in his entire group.

WILLIAMS: I call him the architect. You know, him, LeBron met in the early 20s - two guys from inner city walking into investor meetings. And I'm just not talking about, you know, with venture capitalists with names that people would have no idea who they are. I'm talking about some of the biggest names in the industry. And how do you break through those barriers? How do you get people to listen to you even when you don't speak the same language they do? So I want you to listen to what Maverick told me about that situation in particular.


MAVERICK CARTER: You know, this is largely - especially then, even - the, you know, white-controlled media, with white agents and white gyms. And you're going, wow, we're these young Black guys, and they're just taking aim at us. So it was more about if this thing worked - if LeBron and his - you know, his friends thing worked, then the next LeBron or the next Jason Williams is going to have their friend who's going to want to represent them. And then how do we get in and represent them? So trying to wipe us out was just them trying to protect their territory.

WILLIAMS: And that's exactly what you're seeing in today's world of sports - athletes in their own individual teams that are building out branding and are OK coming to the table not looking or feeling the need to act in the same manner of the way that it's always been done. And that disruptive mentality is exactly what Maverick Carter is talking about.

MARTÍNEZ: And taking ownership, not just of their talent - which, say, for LeBron James, would be playing basketball and getting paid to play basketball - but then taking ownership of what his brand and what his name means - I think that's what Maverick Carter seemed to be talking there - because there are other examples. And you talk to other people on the podcast about that exact same thing.

WILLIAMS: Exactly. I can build something that has real value and also last. Look, we speak to a lot of people. Another person that's a great example of that is Charlemagne tha God. He's the host of one of the biggest radio shows in the country called "The Breakfast Club." He's a massive talk radio show host out of New York that has really become a major stop for democratic politicians when they want to reach Black audiences. He's written a couple of books that did really well. But you talk about ownership - when he was approached to do his third book by Simon & Schuster, he was like, nah.


CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: You know, when Simon & Schuster comes to you and they say, hey, you know, we want you to do a third book, yeah, you could take a whole bunch of money up front, or you could be like, you know what? I would rather take less money to do my book, but give me a book imprint. They're like, aight (ph), cool, you know what I'm saying? So you only get what you ask for in this game.

WILLIAMS: And, A, that imprint is called Atria, right? It's about a year old. Char is using it to elevate Black and brown narratives. And speaking of ownership, he's also had a multi-year deal with Audible. He's working with comedian Kevin Hart. And I really love the name of their company. It's called Short Black Handsome Productions, right?

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

WILLIAMS: It's - and if you know me, think about...

MARTÍNEZ: That's you, Jay. That's you. There you go.

WILLIAMS: Whoa, whoa, whoa, A.

MARTÍNEZ: It describes you.

WILLIAMS: I'm 6'2", by the way. I want you - I'm 6'2". I am tall in the big scheme of things. Maybe when I'm around LeBron James, I look small. But I'm tall. But still, just the way Char has talked openly about mental health, being called, like, a radio shock jock - back in the day, some people will call him the African American version of Howard Stern - and how he's really transcended that thought and now really leading and guiding people on how they should navigate really tough life decisions as it relates to politics, you know, mental awareness, even as it relates to crypto and investing. He's really trying to do something different within the Black community and be a different voice.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, another cool thing about having conversations for a living is that, you know, sometimes you not only get to understand the person that you're talking to, but you start to find out things about yourself - like, things that help you understand you a little bit better. Are you learning anything about yourself in the process of making this podcast?

WILLIAMS: Look, we're all one-degree separation apart. I firmly believe that - everybody in this world. So to be able to tie into things about the pandemic, things about finance, things about emotion, things about love, about your passion, how your passion can become who you are, or have you been able to find out who you are without your passion? - these are all things I want to know about myself. So I get a chance just to take notes and to provide blueprints for everybody looking to find out more about how to navigate this new world that we're living in.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Jay Williams, he's the host of NPR's new podcast The Limits, which launched this week.

Jay, welcome to NPR. Congrats on the show, and thanks for giving us some time.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, A. I appreciate it, my man.