Jerome Williams played nine seasons in the NBA with the Pistons, Raptors, Bulls and Knicks before retiring this summer. Known for his tenacity on defense, Williams grabbed 3,743 rebounds in 587 career games, along the way earning the nickname "Junk Yard Dog" after the pro wrestler who competed under that alias in the 1980s. Now that he's retired, Williams will continue with the Knicks in various scouting, community relation and broadcasting capacities in addition to producing a motivational CD scheduled for release this fall. The fan favorite is presently participating in the NBA's Basketball without Borders Africa event and will periodically blog with his thoughts from Johannesburg.

A Part of Their Family

September 7-12, 2005

Johannesburg, South Africa


NEW YORK, Sept. 12 -- I'm back in New York after my week-long trip to South Africa for Basketball without Borders. It was an unforgettable experience.

On Saturday we went to the Ithuteng Trust, a Youth Empowerment Program founded in 1990 by Jackey “Mama Jackey” Maarohanye, in Pimville, South Africa. Mama Jackey has really reached out to her community and put all the weight on her shoulders in order to make a life for these children, who've been abandoned by their parents or left to die because their parents passed away from AIDS.

Unfortunately, 80 percent of the students have been victims of rape in the past, usually by a father or an uncle. The children performed a play today that was a reenactment of several rapes they had experienced, and it was breath-taking. I've never witnessed anything like that before. It leaves you with a feeling of "What can I do to support this lady Mama Jackey and her program?"

We all had a chance to speak to the kids after their performance. It was extremely difficult because I didn't know what I was going to say. I just grabbed the microphone and went with whatever was in my heart. I just reminded the kids to keep God first in their life. I let them know they have a lot of support from the NBA and each individual player who came out here, and that we would continue that support and pray for them and their families.

To see that many kids with their attention on you; hanging onto your every word -- it's very heartfelt. You want to give them so much but you only have a short amount of time. But I think every NBA player did a great job in terms of uplifting the students. The children got a lot out of it, knowing they have NBA players supporting them.

Dikembe dedicated two dorms to the Trust, and the NBA, with a lot of support from outside the league -- such as from actor/comedian Chris Tucker -- was able to dedicate to it a new laundry facility. Bob Lanier let me know they were washing their clothes in buckets of dirty water last year. We also opened up a new rose garden because all the children are the flowers of the world.

The students reciprocated by inducting all the NBA players into the Zulu Warrior Kings. So we had to be draped in Zulu outfits with matching headwear. It was just a wonderful experience.

The next day, the students came to the International School of Johannesburg to watch the All-Star games for the Basketball without Borders basketball camp. It was great to see the students' joy as they watched the best young prospects in Africa compete. A player who I talked about in my previous blog entry -- he reminds me of a young Steve Nash -- ended up making the All-Star team. He's a very good player and definitely has a chance to succeed; there are a lot of campers who have that chance.

Every one of the All-Stars are Division I material in the States. In high school it's tough to project whether a kid will make the NBA but there's at least three or four that could make that level if they continue working -- they have the raw skills.

I am hoping more NBA players will visit Africa and learn what's going on. A lot of us have the ability to travel, but because of fear, a lot of us don't really take the initiative to. I was definitely prone to that until this experience.

Within the next year, I'm going to come back to South Africa and do a concert for the kids. Myself and the group that I perform music with -- QTMC (Quest To Make a Change) -- will partner with the NBA to raise money for the trusts I visited this week through the sales of our soon-to-be-released CD "Change the World," coming out this month.

We left the children many copies of the CD so by the time we come back there are definitely going to be a large number of JYD and QTMC fans. Last week, the students of the Sky Trust gave me the African name Temba, which means "Hope" in Zulu. I'm their Hope and I'm going to make sure I hold to that --- once you go over there it's like you're a part of their family.

The Next Nash?

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Sept. 9 -- My fourth day in South Africa started out with me going to the gym and working out with my squad of players. There are over 100 total players ages 19-and-under from 28 countries across Africa participating in Basketball without Borders here, and we get to coach them.

I'm guiding the Raptors team alongside Toronto assistant coach Alex English as well as NBA center Mamadou N'Diaye. The players are improving, particularly one of the point guards on our team, No. 8. He's definitely a shining light -- he knows how to play the game, and I'm working closely with him. He's very good, like a Steve Nash protégé, and handles the ball well.

It's been great interacting with all of my players. They're very tentative and continue to strive to get better. But it is difficult for some of them because of the language barrier. Not all of our translators speak their particular language. But as professionals we continue to guide them and work through it.

Throughout my trip to South Africa, I've gotten to meet individuals from all over the world. Today my brother Johnnie and I, Bob Lanier and representatives from the NBA also got a chance today to visit The International School of Johannesburg, which educates over 100 students from 50 different nations -- generally the sons and daughters of Ambassadors.

We answered the students' questions about peer pressures and some of the problems they face. One young man stood up and told us he was having a struggle in his life with the fact that he moves around to a lot of different countries. When he thinks he finds a place to call home, at the end of the summer, he's always leaving for a new country.

There's been a lot of interacting with kids -- and that's what my brother and I like to do. It's about hearing from them, hearing what they're dealing with in life and try to assist them with the knowledge we have.

JYD stands for my nickname Junk Yard Dog, but I talked to them about its meaning off the court: Just be yourself, set Your goals and Do your best.

Johnnie gave them a speech about the concept of Triple-Threat, which involves reaching for your dreams, getting around the obstacles that get in your way and passing the knowledge you've learned onto others.

This afternoon in Soweto, Johnnie and I performed a song off our motivational CD "Mission Possible" at a dedication for the two basketball courts Reebok donated to the community. Dikembe Mutombo, Jim Jackson, Marcus Camby, Darvin Ham, Maciej Lampe and Mamadou N'Diaye all participated in the song, which is called "Rise to the Top." Basically, we want South Africa to rise to the top and overcome the pandemic of AIDS and HIV.

The audience was singing along with us, laughing; a lot of people and a lot of smiling faces. The kids even performed an AIDS and HIV-themed play for the whole crowd.

I'm just having a great time out here and really seeing a lot. Basketball without Borders is just a terrific program. I'm learning everyday how much the NBA and its sponsors are doing in these other countries -- it's really uplifting. I just hope companies within the U.S. really get involved. The people here just have a wonderful spirit. Despite being less fortunate than we are, they don't allow their circumstances to get them down.

Words Can't Describe

KLIPTOWN, South Africa, Sept. 8 -- I was given a new name by my African brothers and sisters today. That name is "Temba" which stands for hope.

Basically, that's what the children at the Soweto Kliptown Youth Trust (SKY) got from me. It's a Zulu name, so they adopted me into the Zulu Tribe.

Located just outside of Johannesburg, SKY is a youth empowerment program which helps educate 500 students in addition to providing them with daily meals. The children did a play for their NBA visitors, they danced for us, they sang for us. What I saw today was just amazing in terms of the joy from these people who have less than nothing. They're in poverty beyond poverty and to see their happiness in their state of condition is just mind-blowing.

You can't really put into words what I witnessed because I would have never expected it. It was just wonderful to see their enthusiasm, dedication and happiness.

You would think such a visit would present a situation where people are crying, destitute and feeling low. They actually were lifting us up, and making us feel good about their situation because of their attitudes, heart and will to see a brighter day. It's just amazing and I'll never forget it.

There were so many children that touched me. The one that probably touched all of us in particular was the lead actress in the play the students performed. She was the girl who gave me my new Zulu name so I told her she had to have a name, too -- "Precious."

Precious was just so happy and overwhelmed with joy; she wasn't at all preoccupied with her situation. I gave her one of my Change the World CDs and she was just very grateful for that. She also thanked me for my time, and for offering resources, money and supporting them .

I encourage those who have it in their heart to give to people less fortunate to do so, just from hearing about these situations from people like me, who've witnessed them first-hand. It's hard to live something through a television screen so far away and truly understand it. To witness my African Brothers and Sisters in their state, with my own eyes, talking with them, touching them, it's really an unbelievable experience.

I'm thankful that guys like Dikembe Mutombo, Marcus Camby, Jimmy Jackson, Darvin Ham, Maciej Lampe and Mamadou N'diaye came out here and gave their support today. We raised over $160,000 for the kids in less than 30 minutes just based on what we were able to witness.

I'd also like to thank the NBA for the opportunity to be able to come out here and participate in Basketball without Borders. I think they're doing great things around the world. Just like JYD, they're on a quest to make a change.

An Uplifting Experience

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Sept. 7 -- It's my second day in Johannesburg, South Africa for Basketball without Borders, and wow, what an afternoon…

I went to the Apartheid Museum today and learned about the struggles of South Africa -- how it was segregated here for a long time with regard to race and eventually desegregated when Apartheid ended in the 1990s.

It was a very uplifting experience for me and my family. As an African-American it’s hard to grasp from America the type of impact that you gain from the knowledge of the things that happened in Africa, our motherland.

My two daughters are not here, being so young, but my stepdaughter and wife are here as well as my older brother, Johnnie, who does a lot of programs for kids with the NBA. He works with the NBA Players Association and its camp for top U.S. high school players and collaborates with the Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks on motivational programs.

I came to Africa on a mission -- to help change the world. That's something that my brother and I have always seen as our goal. This is just part of that overall mission. By coming here to Africa and working with the basketball players, we can give the BWB campers knowledge of the NBA and balance that with educational themes -- not only in regard to their school work but also AIDS and HIV. All those things pretty much come into play.

Marcus Camby, Jim Jackson and Darvin Ham are also here, and they came with me to the Apartheid Museum. After everything we've seen, we talked about how more NBA players should make the trip here and the fact that we truly are ambassadors on a multitude of levels.

Just like there are millions of kids who look up to us in America, they're millions upon millions of kids who look up to us in Africa. We have to recognize that and know the things we do can help so many people.

And, not only are we educating but we're being educated. The first day we arrived we got the chance to interact with the elephants of Africa in a town about an hour-and-a-half outside of Johannesburg. It was just a great experience for me and my family. We fed the elephants, walked with them and learned more about them and their habitat -- basically just developing a relationship with the elephants.

Elephants have such large brains and such great memories that if you interact with them, they remember you. So, they remember if you're nice to them or if you're not nice to them. They can identify you based on scent, things as humans we don't concentrate on. It was a great experience!

I'll check in with you again. Big shout out to all the Dog Pound members. I'd like to give a bark from the JYD!